New nuclear emergency center opens

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldMay 22, 2014 

The nuclear power plant near Richland gained another layer of protection Thursday.

The first of two national response centers planned by the nuclear industry opened in Phoenix.

It is equipped with complete sets of emergency equipment that could be delivered to the Columbia Generating Station near Richland or any other nuclear power plant within 24 hours. A second national response center is planned to open in Memphis, Tenn., later this year.

The Columbia Generating Station already has permanent, built-in safety systems and additional portable emergency equipment on site. It also has protocols in place to share backup safety equipment among other nuclear power plants in an emergency.

But the tsunami that devastated the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan three years ago prompted greater disaster preparation efforts among U.S. nuclear plants.

Damage might have been lessened at the Fukushima plant if similar backup equipment had been available there within 24 hours, said Angela Walz, spokeswoman for Energy Northwest.

"It's another method so we can prevent anything of that magnitude from happening," she said.

The tsunami in Japan flooded the area where emergency generators were kept, and although an emergency battery-powered system also was available, it lasted only a day.

The response centers will stock and regularly test portable backup generators, pumps, standardized couplings and hoses. At least four complete sets will be available at each center to ship to any U.S. nuclear power plant within 24 hours.

The equipment could be used to protect reactors and used fuel storage pools until normal power and cooling systems are restored. Equipment also would be available to help with repairs.

The Phoenix and Memphis response centers will know what type of equipment the Columbia Generating Station has and what it might need under unforeseen and extreme conditions.

Costs of the new centers are being shared by Energy Northwest, which owns the Richland plant, and the other companies that operate 100 reactors in the United States. Each center costs about $40 million to start with annual operating costs of about $4 million.

Brad Sawatzke, Energy Northwest's chief nuclear officer, attended Thursday's opening for the regional response center in Phoenix and emphasized Energy Northwest's commitment to public safety.

"These regional response centers are an indication of the industry's commitment as well," he said.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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