Jul 28, 2014

What If Braidwood or Dresden Had a Meltdown?

Local, state and federal officials guarantee safety in local nuclear power plants.

What If Braidwood or Dresden Had a Meltdown?

With the recent tsunami and earthquake in Japan, which resulted in concerns about a possible nuclear meltdown, residents living in Channahon and Minooka may be thinking: Could this happen in my own backyard? 

The fact that Dresden Nuclear Power Plant is nine miles east of neighboring Morris and the Braidwood Generating Station is about 20 miles southwest of Joliet, there is that possibility.

In the event of an emergency, local, state and federal officials do have emergency planning procedures in place to ensure the safety of residents.

Bob Osgood, Dresden Station Site Communications Manager in Morris, said plant officials engage in several drills throughout the year that allow officials to react to scenarios that could happen because of a nuclear meltdown. The exercises are graded by Exelon to make sure the power plant is meeting safety regulations.

“Every cog of the wheel has to perform as expected in a real-life scenario,” Osgood said.

And, the potential of a nuclear meltdown is unlikely to happen at the Braidwood or Dresden facilities.

Exelon issued a statement on its Website yesterday, saying that its nuclear power plants, which includes both nearby, are designed to withstand earthquakes between 6.0 and 6.9 on the Richter scale, even though none of its 10 nuclear plants is in a significant earthquake zone. 

Exelon also informed the public that its nuclear power plants are designed to withstand flooding and that tsunamis are not a threat to its plants, even though the Oyster Creek Plant in New Jersey on Barnegat Bay is miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean. Tsunami activity is very rare on the East Coast.

“We grade these plants and make sure the safety and security are maintained,” said Prema Chandtrathil, public affairs officer of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Region III.

Illinois Efforts

Patti Thompson, media contact for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, said the agency is accountable for real-time environmental and radiological monitoring of seven nuclear power plants in Illinois. These include 11 commercial nuclear reactors and three shut-down nuclear facilities.

The remote monitoring system, which receives more than 1,000 parameters every minute from the operating reactor, is sent by Exelon to Springfield, Thompson said. The data includes information on radiation levels and position of fuel rods, she said.

Thompson said detectors on the stacks of the plants collect samples of what is being emitted into the air. If samples are out of the normal range, it is immediately investigated, she said.

“Everyone associated with nuclear power plants in the states are watching the events in Japan,” Thompson said. “We are all looking very closely at ways to further enhance safety and response of the plants.”

Local Efforts

If a nuclear disaster was to occur, the Channahon Police Department would utilize its Emergency Operations Center. 

Channahon Police Lt. Mark Fischer said within this emergency operations center, stimulation drills are conducted annually.  In a true incident though, village officials, administrative department heads, police and fire officials and park district and school officials would collaborate. Information about an issue at a nuclear power plant would be received electronically from the IMEA. Based on the information received, officials would determine what action would be taken to ensure safety of the village and its residents, he said.

“This helps us make better decisions and coordinate our efforts,” Fischer said. “I feel that the village is very well prepared.” 

That attitude seems to be shared by residents.

Bruce Graham, Channahon resident in the Hunter’s Crossing subdivision, said that there is a risk of something potentially happening if one moves into a community near nuclear plants, but he said he isn’t concerned much about the risk.

“I’m more concerned about making it day-to-day,” Graham said. “I just hope that they (power plant officials) are following the safety regulations. “I hope they (power plant officials) are closely looking into what is happening in Japan and it inspires the companies here to keep the power plants up-to-date.”

Jim Zuchel, Channahon resident in the Hunter’s Crossing subdivision, said it doesn’t bother him that he lives close to the nuclear power plants; he is just glad that he doesn’t have to look out his kitchen window and see a nuclear power plant, as residents in the Highlands and McKinley Oaks subdivisions do.

“I can’t understand why people would have a $600,000 home built overlooking a nuclear plant,” Zuchel said.

Zuchel said that no one can predict a natural disaster happening and understands there are emergency procedures that will be put into effect if something does occur at one of the nuclear power plants. However he said because he lives so close to a major nuclear power plant, if something does quickly happen, there is not much that can be done.

“It will happen so fast that I rather be vaporized than die slowly from the effects of radiation," Zuchel said.

That doesn't mean, however, that there is not a plan in place for Channahon and Minooka residents.

Dresden’s emergency plans recommends its residents to prepare an emergency kit. Items such as a portable radio, flashlight, extra batteries, extra car keys and a first aid kit. Important phone numbers, medicines, some food and water also should be included. The plan also recommends keeping vehicles maintained and gas tanks filled.

“We will learn a lot, and there will be a change in the industry because of Japan’s incident.” Osgood said. “Our plants operate safely and if they don’t, they shouldn’t operate at all.”

Exelon distributes emergency planning brochures to residents every year explaining what to do and how to plan for an emergency.

According to Osgood, warning sirens will go off and the community will be instructed to tune into the radio station for instructions about whether or not to take shelter or evacuate the area. A special shelter will be provided for pets.

Exelon’s Nuclear’s Braidwood Station is hosting a community information night on Thursday, March 24. The information night will take place at Cinder Ridge Golf Course, 24801 Lakepoint Dr., Wilmington. Representatives from Exelon, the USNRC and IEMA will be on hand to provide information out the Braidwood facility.

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