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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Emergency rehearsal for towns near Millstone nuclear power plant

Preparing for a radiation release
"Emergency, Everyone to get from street!"
By Will Collette

The New London Day’s Judy Benson reports on an emergency drill conducted for emergency management staff and municipal leaders for ten communities in the immediate vicinity of the Millstone nuclear power plant just outside of New London.

The plant is only 20 miles due west of Charlestown. If there had been an actual radiation release of the type used in this drill, Charlestown would have gotten a bad dose given our relative closeness and position immediately down-wind.

There are ten communities in Millstone’s “Emergency Planning Zone”: New London, Groton, Groton township, Ledyard, Lyme, Old Lyme, East Lyme, Waterford, Montville and Fishers Island.

The emergency drill started with the lowest level of alert – an “unusual event” (gotta love the name) – where a small amount of radioactive gas gets vented from their nuclear waste storage area.

In small increments, the drill posed ever more dangerous levels and ended at the highest level called “a general emergency,” also called (by me) “You’re totally screwed.”

At the “general emergency” level, there is a general evacuation of a five-mile radius around the site.

Of course, all the governmental agencies, from the several federal to the many municipal, worked together seamlessly, applying the decisions and action steps prescribed in the manual. Such a shame that real emergencies don't generally work out that way.

I’m glad that they’re practicing what to do if something really bad happens at Millstone. Given the huge volume of radioactive waste being stored there – more than 3.5 million pounds – and Millstone’s safety issues, you never know.

But limiting the drill to only those towns in the immediate area ignores the potential dangers the world saw when the earthquake and tsunami in Japan breached the Fukushima power plant’s radioactive storage areas.

As I read Judy Benson’s lively account of the drill, I kept thinking of one of my favorite scenes from the classic 1966 comedy, “The Russians Are Coming,” which you can watch below.