What's the plan for nuclear incident during shutdown?

Posted at 5:20 PM on June 27, 2011 by Paul Tosto (0 Comments)

Good question.

MPR's Elizabeth Dunbar's done the reporting. She writes:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is asking state officials if a state government shutdown would affect their ability to respond to an incident at one of the state's two nuclear power plants.

FEMA Region V Administrator Andrew Velasquez sent a letter to state Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Kris Eide last week. Velasquez said Gov. Mark Dayton's court filing detailing which government services should continue in a shutdown didn't make it clear "whether staff and resources will be maintained sufficiently" to meet the state's responsibilities in responding to an incident at the Prairie Island or Monticello nuclear plants.

FEMA asked Eide to explain the state's contingency plans for a list of areas including communications, support services, evacuation routes and accident assessment. If an incident were to occur at either plant, the state would coordinate the response. Depending on the level of danger to the public, hundreds of state employees could be involved.

Doug Neville, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety, said Eide is reviewing Dayton's list of core services to ensure nothing was overlooked and expects to respond to FEMA by Wednesday.

Neville said officials are still in the process of checking for areas that may have been missed and developing contingency plans for a number of disaster scenarios. But he said public safety officials believe that the state personnel needed to respond to a nuclear incident were included in Dayton's initial court filing.

"As it stands right now, based on what our recommendations are, I don't anticipate [a shutdown] having an affect on our ability to respond to any emergency," Neville said.

Besides first responders, state workers with skills ranging from coordination and management to technical expertise would be needed in an incident at Prairie Island or Monticello. A response would involve multiple state agencies. For example, MnDOT workers might handle traffic control and evacuation routes and the Department of Natural Resources might send radiological survey teams out to the area surrounding the nuclear plant.

If state workers who fulfill those roles are laid off, it could be difficult to call them back to work in an emergency. An agreement being voted on by union members would give workers up to three days to show up for work after being recalled.

FEMA officials said in the letter that if federal officials determine the state plan is "no longer capable of being implemented or is no longer adequate to protect public health and safety, Dayton and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will be notified.

Neville said state officials weren't surprised to receive the letter, which he described as a formality.

"It's kind of a standard step for them to take to make sure we have everything in place," he said.

Neville acknowledged that even if the governor includes personnel needed for disaster response in his recommendations for a shutdown, the courts will ultimately decide which areas of state government will keep operating.

"The court needs to decide. That's the point of contact for not just the nuclear plants, but also other things related to disaster response," he said.

Officials at Xcel Energy, which operates the two nuclear plants, said they don't expect a shutdown would have any impact on the plants. But spokeswoman Mary Sandok said Xcel will keep monitoring developments on the potential shutdown and communicate with state and federal officials about the status of response operations.

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