Radiation drill underway at San Onofre

SAN ONOFRE (CNS) – Workers at the San Onofre nuclear plant drilled Tuesday on shutting down the two reactors and securing the fuel rods as part of a biennial exercise that took on new significance in light of the disaster in Japan.

Southern California Edison, which operates the plant in San Clemente, also signaled its intent to ask the state Public Utilities Commission to fund some $64 million in studies aimed at better preparing workers to a radiological accident.

“We have been planning the seismic and tsunami studies for several months,” SCE's top nuclear officer, Pete Dietrich, said. “Following the recent tragic natural disasters in Japan, we re-evaluated and enlarged the scope in order to further increase the scientific information we could obtain.”

The drill, which started today and continues through Thursday, is mostly secret. But public information officers and radiation experts set up at a site in Irvine, where they practiced getting out essential information. Public health officials from across Southern California also are participating.

The exercise, which is done every two years, is the San Onofre's most extensive that is monitored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Gil Alexander of SCE said.

The main difference this year, Tina Walker of the state's Emergency Management Agency said, was the amount of interest shown by the news media. She called that a positive change.

“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 SCE officials hoped that increased coverage of the drills would help calm fears, as the Japanese work to contain the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which was ruined by the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami that struck March 11.

“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.”

On Friday at 4 p.m., FEMA officials will be at Capistrano Unified School District offices to give a “snapshot” view of how the exercise went, John Hamill of FEMA said. In about three months, FEMA will issue a San Onofre “report card,” he said.

The state's Emergency Management Agency is coordinating the exercises. Together, the two reactors at San Onofre generate about 2.1 billion watts of electricity at full capacity. Both units have been overhauled in recent years.

Categories: KUSI