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Thursday, April 14, 2011

San Onofre Nuclear Power plant stages secret mock disaster drill

California Nuclear Power Plant Stages Mock Radiation Drill

By Anita Vogel

Imagine if a fire broke out causing an explosion at the San Onofre Nuclear Power plant in San Clemente, California, just like the one that crippled the Fukushima Dai-ichi Plant in Japan last month.

That's the mock scenario playing out at the Joint Information Center in Irvine, California.

Just like the world watched as Japanese Utility Officials held press conferences and the Japanese media did its best to report on the catastrophe, emergency officials here in Southern California staged similar press availabilities complete with fake reporters asking questions ...and even a war room behind the scenes

"This is a drill, this is a drill, We have declared a general emergency because conditions now suggest to us the possibility of a release," - Gil Alexander of SoCAL Edison, which operates the facility.

Similar to the Japanese disaster, in this drill an eventual pump failure causes a radiation leak, forcing the evacuation of thousands and serious medical precautions to be upheld.

Canned Answers ready: "If you are advised to take potassium iodide, to take the potassium iodide unless otherwise recommended not to do so," said Ken August from the California Department of Health, only adding to the drama.

Also just like the Fukushima Dai-ichi location, San Onofre facility sits right next to the ocean near a fault line and could be rocked by an earthquake at any time, which is why emergency officials, along with the utility that operates the plant insist they take these drills to heart.

"We learn something in every drill and it could be a big thing, small thing...we try to observe everything," said Harry Sherwood of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will evaluate the drill once it's over.

"The goal here is to make this as real as possible," said Steve Conroy of Southern California Edison. "We do drills anywhere from three to five times a year. This is something that not only us but various members that participate that very seriously, and like they say practice makes perfect."

The San Onofre Nuclear generating station was built in the 1980's and provides power to 1.4 million nearby customers. It was designed to withstand an earthquake of magnitude 7.0 or greater. Officials say these drills help them prepare for that and other possible natural disasters. Southern California Edison is also asking the state of California for a whopping extra 64 million dollars to study how a major earthquake and tsunami might impact San Onofre.

Nobody wants to be caught off guard.

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****REMINDER**** Every fire has the ability to be catastrophic. The wildland fire management environment has profoundly changed. Growing numbers of communities, across the nation, are experiencing longer fire seasons; more frequent, bigger, and more severe, fires are a real threat. Be careful with all campfires and equipment.
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