San Onofre drills getting underway

City News Service

Southern California radiation experts and emergency workers will take part in a drill Tuesday to test responses to an emergency at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, an exercise that is done every other year but has taken on added significance because of the disaster in Japan.

The drills on site at the San Onofre plant will be done in secret, but other officials will gather at a Joint Information Center, where they will simulate news conferences as they practice how to disseminate information in case of a disaster.

Drills are conducted at the San Onofre plant a few times a year, but this biennial one is a much more extensive test that is monitored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Edison spokesman Gil Alexander said.

The main difference this year is the interest from the media, according Tina Walker, a spokesman for the California Emergency Management Agency. She said that is a positive change, because Southern California residents should know how to be prepared for an emergency.

"One of the key steps is to know the resources in your local jurisdiction," Walker said. "The best way someone can protect themselves and their family is to know your local resources. Speak to your local officials on emergency planning and once you get that information under your belt you'll be prepared for anything.''

Alexander said Edison hopes the increased coverage of the drills will help calm some fears as the earthquake-crippled Fukushima reactor in Japan continues to stoke anxiety about radioactive leaks.

"We're hopeful the news stories this week will show our extensive planning efforts," Alexander said. "We hope the reports on all of this will be reassuring to the public.''

The drill at San Onofre will simulate a radioactive leak that goes beyond the plant's boundaries and into the community, Alexander said.

FEMA officials will hold a meeting at 4 p.m. Friday at the Capistrano Unified School District offices in San Juan Capistrano to give the public a "snapshot" view of how the drills went, said FEMA spokesman John Hamill.

In about three months, FEMA will issue its "report card" on the drill, Hamill said.

The California Emergency Management Agency will coordinate the test at the two nuclear reactors starting Tuesday, and concluding Thursday.

Workers will test emergency shut-down procedures and practice securing radioactive fuel rods.

San Onofre's two reactors generate 2.1 billion watts of electricity when operating at full capacity. Both units were returned to 99 percent operations this year, after extensive rebuilding projects.

Emergency and public health workers from Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties will participate in the drill.



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