Exercise tests response and recovery plans for nuclear power plant

Exercise tests response and recovery plans for nuclear power plant

Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station at Night, Photo by: Arizona Public Service Electric Company

Discussions about radiation levels, wind change, schools and evacuations dominated the conversations at the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) in Phoenix and the Joint Information Center (JIC) near Buckeye as part of a three-day Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station (PVNGS) exercise held March 1 to 3.

The State of Arizona, local governments, federal agencies and the utility have emergency response plans in the unlikely event of a nuclear power plant incident. They review and test their response plans regularly.

The Offsite Emergency Response Plan for PVNGS defines two Emergency Planning Zones or EPZs--a 10-mile EPZ and the 50-mile zone, also called the Ingestion Pathway Zone (IPZ).

“Stringent federal regulation, automated, redundant safety systems and the nuclear industry’s commitment to comprehensive safety procedures keep Palo Verde and other nuclear power plants and their communities’ safe,” said Dave Crozier, Senior Emergency Planning Coordinator at PVNGS. “Even though U.S. nuclear plants are well-designed, operated by trained personnel, defended against attack, robust plans are prepared in the unlikely event of an emergency.”

People who live within the 10-mile EPZ could be affected by direct radiation in the unlikely event of an emergency at Palo Verde. The 50-mile IPZ is representative of an area where radioactive materials could contaminate water supplies, food crops and livestock.

The potential danger from an incident at a nuclear power plant is radiation exposure to the body from the cloud and particles deposited on the ground, inhalation of radioactive materials, and ingestion of radioactive materials. The exposure could come from the release of radioactive material from the plant into the environment, usually characterized by a plume of radioactive gases and particles.

“Emergency preparedness is an integral part of daily operations. We demonstrate a continuing commitment to safety and emergency preparedness by constantly exercising emergency plans and procedures, upgrading emergency response facilities and equipment, and conducting responder training and drill programs to maintain proficiency,” Crozier said. “Each nuclear energy company works with its state and local public safety partners to ensure that the response capability is comprehensive and well-integrated to ensure public health and safety.”

The Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) Radiological Emergency Preparedness Program (REP) works in close partnership with the Arizona Radiation Regulatory Agency, Maricopa County and the City of Buckeye to maintain and exercise the Offsite Plan. The REP program provides Arizona officials with detailed information to help them make decisions on how to protect area residents from a radiological emergency.

The first day of the recent exercise was a full-scale exercise (multiple jurisdictions coordinating and communicating, along with people acting out the scenario). The scenario started with a fire at the plant, followed by equipment malfunctioning and an airborne release of radioactive materials into the environment outside of the facility.

Inside the policy room at the SEOC, decision makers had to decide whether people in the 10-mile EPZ should evacuate or shelter-in-place. Public safety is always the number one priority during any type of emergency or disaster.

Over at the JIC, public information officers busily crafted timely and accurate messages to disseminate to the public, briefed the media played by students and professors from Arizona State University, and looked for rumors and trends in the scripted phone calls coming into the SEOC.

The scenario for the second day of exercising simulated ground deposits of radioactive materials and contaminated food, water and milk products in the ingestion pathway. Response plans continued to be tested as policy decisions had to be made about implementing protective actions for emergency workers and the general public.

The third day of the exercise was a tabletop ingestion pathway discussion of recovery issues at one week, six months and five years after the radiological release. The attendees split up into three groups to discuss the potential housing, health and economic needs and concerns that could arise. They then discussed who is responsible for each issue. The end goal of the day’s activities was to create a recovery plan with all the potential issues and ways to respond to them.

About 130 people, representing 16 state agencies, nine county agencies, two local agencies, three tribal nations, one private industry organization, and four federal agencies participated in the multi-day exercise.

“A key part of our joint program is the integration of all of our partners together to provide the level of coordinated response that is required in a complex and dynamic incident such as this,” said Matt Heckard, DEMA’s REP Preparedness Coordinator. “Exercising together builds this strength and is necessary to demonstrate the coordination needed within the whole community to fulfill our roles and responsibilities.”

Drills and exercises are conducted multiple times a year to evaluate response and recovery plans, test emergency response capabilities and practice coordination between agencies. A Plume Exposure Pathway exercise is conducted twice a year, and is federally evaluated every other year. The recent drill was held in preparation for a federally-evaluated Ingestion Exposure Pathway exercise in 2017, which occurs every eight years.

“Next year will be an opportunity for us to jointly exercise our capabilities and coordinated emergency response resources to protect public health and safety following an incident at PVNGS, resulting in a release of radioactive materials into the environment,” Heckard explained. “We will be evaluated by both FEMA and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to validate our response and coordination capabilities against federal regulations and the guidelines for emergency response as outlined in the FEMA REP Program.”

Residents of the 10-mile EPZ are encouraged to prepare in case of an emergency at Palo Verde.

  • Know the emergency plans for your area, including work, daycare and school.
  • Locate what sector you live or work in.
  • Review the PVNGS calendar (mailed to all residents within the 10-mile EPZ).
  • Write a family communication plan. The plan should include several escape routes away from your home, by care and by foot. Practice evacuating with your family.
  •  Make an emergency supplies kit containing at least three days worth of water, food, medicine, first aid, and other items for each member of your family, including pets. It  should include plastic sheeting, duct tape and scissors in order to be better prepared for a nuclear power plant incident.
  • Prepare a smaller portable kit to take in your car in case you are told to evacuate with copies of important papers, food, medicine, water, clothes, etc.
  • Tune in to get emergency information. Local radio and television stations will broadcast any emergency messages to the community.


For more information, visit www.AzEIN.gov