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Responders receive glowing remarks for nuclear plant drill

The 650 participants in a hostile action exercise Tuesday for the Prairie Island nuclear plant had a strong showing, according to a briefing Friday by federal agencies in charge of the evaluation.

“What we observed being demonstrated this week was very positive,” said Stephen Tulley, a supervisor with the Federal Emergency Management Agency who directed the exercise. FEMA oversaw the offsite response to the drill by local government and first responders.

The agency is continuing its evaluation, but Tulley said the preliminary assessment is that responders in Minnesota and Wisconsin — including Goodhue, Pierce and Dakota counties — can “adequately protect” citizens living within 10 miles of the rural Red Wing nuclear plant, and that there is “reasonable assurance” the organizations can act accordingly in case of an emergency

“That’s what everybody strives for and it’s the ultimate goal for this week’s exercise,” he said. “And they hit that; hit it quite well.”

The hostile action exercise was added to FEMA’s Radiological Emergency Preparedness Program in response to 9/11, Tulley said.

Officials would not discuss specifics of the drill, but generally exercise objectives can feature scenarios such as damage to equipment, security events and attempts at causing a radiological release.

Prairie Island personnel faired similarly well in their response to the drill, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which handles evaluations within the plant.

Licensee and operator Xcel Energy demonstrated compliance with NRC regulations and showed “reasonable assurance” it could implement an emergency plan to protect surrounding communities, according to a statement Friday.

A team of five inspectors evaluated exercise participants inside the plant as well as emergency responders sent there, said Robert Jickling, a senior NRC emergency preparedness inspector.

Tulley said participants took the exercise seriously, and he did not witness any “joking and smoking” while visiting sites throughout the day Tuesday.

“If you didn’t realize this was an exercise, you would think the incident was actually unfolding,” he said. “This shows the intensity that individuals displayed.”

Emergency management directors for Goodhue County and the city of Red Wing were among those singled out for recognition by evaluators.

“They shared duties and worked together very effectively,” Tulley said of the local officials. “The teamwork demonstrated contributed to the overall success of the exercise.”

The federal government conducts emergency preparedness exercises at nuclear plants every two years. The last such drill at the Prairie Island plant was in 2012.

The nuclear plant celebrated its 40th anniversary last month. Xcel Energy is licensed to operate it until 2033/2034.

FEMA’s final action report for the drill will be available to the public within 90 days, while the NRC report is due within 45 days.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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