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Peach Bottom exercise under way to test ability of Harford to respond to emergency at nuke plant

'It's going to be a pretty intense couple of days,' EOC official says

BY BRYNA ZUMER, bzumer@theaegis.com

8:07 PM EDT, March 27, 2012

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If an emergency were to strike at the Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station, Harford County would be ready to go, Emergency Operations deputy manager Rick Ayers said Tuesday.

The Emergency Operations Center in Hickory was the focus of a drill, the likes of which takes place every two years, throughout the evening Tuesday.

Ayers said the test would start with a call coming into the dispatch center that announces "an unusual event" at Peach Bottom.

As the night went on, the situation would progress to a site area emergency and eventually deteriorate to a general emergency in which everyone within the 10-mile radius of the power plant would have to evacuate.

The exercise was expected to run until 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. Tuesday.

"If it's a significant enough [situation], we activate the EOC," Ayers explained Monday. "Everyone will report to EOC for the remainder of the exercise."

Sheriff's deputies were to drive through a map of designated routes to simulate alerting residents in case some sirens fail. Deputies must ride down each road within 45 minutes of the emergency announcement, Ayers said.

"It's going to be a pretty intense couple of days," he said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Friday it would also conduct an exercise at the nuclear generating facility in Delta, Pa., and send an evaluation to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission within 90 days.

The power plant site, one of the oldest nuclear generating sites in the United States, is just a few miles north of the Harford County and York County, Pa., border, on the western bank of the Susquehanna River.

Earlier Tuesday, schools within the 10-mile radius of Peach Bottom, namely North Harford Elementary, Middle and High schools, were tested on their response, Ayers said.

"A lot of what happens at the schools is loading kids onto buses," he said, noting children would actually be acting out the emergency response. "The people at the school basically just have to explain what they would do."

Bob Thomas, spokesman for county government, said representatives of dozens of local, state and federal agencies will be gathered at the EOC command center for the exercise, including the Harford County Sheriff's Office, Maryland State Police, Maryland Emergency Management Agency, FEMA and Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the county's departments of public works and community services and the division of agriculture, as well as the Red Cross and Exelon Power, which owns and operates Peach Bottom.

FEMA's final report will be available to the public about 120 days after the exercise and the preliminary findings will be presented at a public meeting at 11 a.m. on Friday, March 30, at the Homewood Suites Hotel, 200 Granite Run Drive in Lancaster, Pa.

The meeting will include government officials from Pennsylvania and Maryland as well as from FEMA and the NRC.

"These drills are held every other year to evaluate government's ability to protect public health and safety," MaryAnn Tierney, regional administrator for FEMA Region III, said in a press release.  "We will assess state and local emergency response capabilities within the 10-mile emergency-planning zone of the nuclear facility."

The NRC said Peach Bottom operated safely during 2010 and had no performance indicators other than "green," the safest level, and no inspection findings greater than green. The NRC spent 5,500 hours inspecting the facility during 2010, including two major team inspections.

Two resident inspectors from the commission routinely check the plant. In 2009, the plant conducted a hostile-action pilot exercise to be ready to counter terrorist threats.

Inspection findings are posted on the NRC's website, http://www.nrc.gov.

Preparedness has not been a concern with the plant in recent years, Neil Sheehan, NRC spokesman, said last year.

"We haven't identified any immediate concerns regarding the Peach Bottom nuclear power plant that would call into question the plant's safety or security," Sheehan said at that time, noting the plant has daily oversight by two full-time, resident inspectors. "We would not say that Peach Bottom has a history of personnel-related issues. We would say that the plant has had some personnel-related problems over its operating history, and those issues have received the necessary attention and been addressed."

For continuing coverage on this story, check with http://www.exploreharford.com or see Friday's print edition of The Aegis.