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EGLE staff plan and train for radioactive release from a nuclear power plant

September 25, 2019

EGLE staff prepare radiological detection equipment for a field test.

Nuclear power plant emergencies are so rare that when one happens, it makes news across the world. We remember the names of those places, and the impacts the emergencies have on people and the environment.

It's been 40 years since a nuclear generating station in Pennsylvania suffered a partial meltdown and radiation leak, and that station’s name, Three Mile Island, remains a touchstone. The Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident in Japan are embedded in our consciousness. Those accidents shaped and continue to propel nuclear power plant and radiation safety and emergency preparedness.

Michigan is home to three operating nuclear power plants. While a nuclear emergency is unlikely, all three plants have robust safety and training programs to protect Michigan residents. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and the Michigan State Police (MSP) work together to develop training and emergency response plans.

Each year, EGLE, MSP, and power plant staff develop a site-specific radiation emergency scenario for training exercises. Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff review the scenario.

The State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC), operated by MSP, is the logistics hub during training exercises and real emergencies. Critical personnel from across state government coordinate the emergency response from the SEOC and make decisions needed to protect life, the environment, and property.

EGLE radiation specialists train volunteers from EGLE and the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration to safely collect data or staff the decontamination center. Teams collect data from around the plant using specialized detection equipment that monitors and quantifies radioactivity, including drones outfitted with radiological detection equipment that help protect emergency workers from exposure to radiation.

The data is transmitted in near real-time using the RadResponder Network, the national radiation data collection system. (Here’s a YouTube video about RadResponder.) EGLE's radiation scientists, led by an EGLE physicist specializing in radiation, review data collected during the training exercise and model the emergency's potential impacts to human health and the environment. The lead physicist may recommend evacuation, shelter-in-place, and technical guidance for handling contaminated food, water, and waste to the state Director for Emergency Management and the Governor’s Office.

Communications is a critical part of the response and recovery in any disaster. During the training exercise or a real emergency, MSP, EGLE, the Michigan Departments of Agriculture and Rural Development and Health and Human Services come together to provide clear and concise information for the public.

EGLE staff prepare radiological detection equipment for a field test. EGLE's partnerships with other state agencies and power plants leverage resources from all levels. Our coordination and routine drills keep staff sharp, help identify any shortcomings in plans, and build new skills that help keep Michigan's residents and environment safe.

Yesterday's MI Environment article looked at the work of EGLE's Environmental Assistance Center.

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