OSWEGO — Federal officials said preliminary findings indicate Exelon Generation and local emergency response providers were successful in biennial emergency exercises recently conducted at the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant in the town of Scriba.
Nuclear power plants in the U.S. are required to conduct so-called graded emergency exercises overseen by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) once every two years. FEMA and NRC officials evaluate the state and local emergency response and the on- and off-site decision making involved with a potential incident at the power plant.
Preliminary findings were released last week, with the full evaluation scheduled for release no later than August 12.
According to NRC spokesperson Neil Sheehan, the FitzPatrick exercise, which was held June 25, involved a reactor scram, partial fuel damage and a release of radioactivity to the environment that escalated to a general emergency — the highest level of emergency classification used by the NRC.
Susan O’Neill, a branch chief with FEMA’s national preparedness division, said there were 70 evaluation criteria and FEMA considered the exercise “very successful” due to the planning, dedication, training and practice of state, county and other participants.
“We’re very assured that they would be able to carry out their duties,” O’Neill said, adding county emergency management officials did a “fantastic” job. “Living in this community, you should feel very assured because they know what they’re doing up here.”
NRC Senior Reactor Inspector Josephine Ambrosini said FEMA focuses on the off-site response of the state and county agencies, with the NRC assessing the nuclear power plant, which in this case is Exelon.
“We are still reviewing our documents, but from an overall assessment standpoint I can say that we have reasonable assurance that Exelon can effectively implement the FitzPatrick emergency plan to adequately protect the public health and safety in the event of a radiological emergency,” Ambrosini said.
Exelon spokesperson Tammy Holden called the preliminary findings “very good news,” and said Exelon Generation’s highest priority is ensuring the health and safety of the public and its employees.
“These observations reflect that so we’re very pleased,” Holden said. “It’s an important thing for us. We take a lot of pride in it, we drill and practice regularly for extreme, unlikely situations.”
Holden said Exelon has a strong partnership with state and county agencies, adding it’s “great to see us all come together to be able to prove what we practice all the time.”
Oswego County Emergency Management Director Dale Currier called the preliminary findings “great news,” noting officials collectively take their roles very seriously to protect the public.
“The nuclear program is very exacting in what has to be demonstrated effectively and on a regular basis,” Currier said of the evaluation. “This is the culmination of two years — since the last exercise — of ongoing training and plan development.”
Currier said the county has dedicated staff that reviews and revises plans, and trains roughly 1,400 public safety workers in the county to deal with a possible radiological emergency.
A number of agencies participated in the drill, including New York State Emergency Management, state Department of Health, state Public Service Commission, various Oswego County departments, FEMA, Exelon and the NRC.
The state of New York and Oswego County, however, were the principle jurisdictions evaluated by FEMA, with the NRC evaluating Exelon’s response and coordination.
Local officials are not privy to the scenario prior to the evaluation, Currier said, calling it “as real as it gets.”
“We have no idea walking in what the scenario is or how it’s going to play out,” Currier said.
Ambrosini said the evaluation measured Exelon’s ability to take appropriate actions to mitigate the event in progress, maintain adequate communication within the plant and with local agencies, making timely and accurate protective actions.
“We’re looking to see are they understanding the event and can give the proper information to off-site folks who have to make a decisions to say ‘evacuate’ or ‘shelter’ or ‘give potassium iodine to the public,’” Ambrosini said. “We saw that they can execute what they’re supposed to do in their emergency plan.”
O’Neill said the simulated exercise measured local agencies' ability to take readings and air samples to identifying any contamination from radioactive particles in order to inform the public of potentially dangerous areas.
“We have reasonable assurance that the off-site organizations can protect the health and safety of the public should something happen,” O’Neill. “Both New York state and Oswego County, we felt they did an exemplary job in conducting their emergency response activities.”
The NRC and FEMA evaluate the county’s three nuclear reactors, which are all owned by Exelon, once every two years. O’Neill said the last site evaluated was completed at Nine Mile Point Unit 2.