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Local agencies do well in nuclear plant emergency drill, especially Pierce County

RED WING - Local and state agencies did pretty well overall in a Tuesday emergency preparedness drill for the Prairie Island nuclear plant, though all except Pierce County had some issues.

The results from this week's drill presented at a public briefing Friday are preliminary, emphasized Gary Naskrent, an official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security who managed evaluations for the off-site actions.

The drill involved the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin, and Goodhue, Pierce and Dakota counties. It simulated an emergency at the plant that eventually led to the need to evacuate the area.

Drills are conducted every two years at nuclear plants. Prairie Island's last one was in August of 2010.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission emergency preparedness inspector Bob Jickling said on site at the nuclear plant there were no inspection findings or performance issues.

The plant employees also did well self-critiquing their actions during the event, he said. The NRC's final report will be available in 30 to 45 days, Jickling said.

But there were some problems outside the plant Tuesday.

Any issues found are classified as either a deficiency, which is more serious, or an area requiring corrective action.

"Whenever it jeopardizes the public's health and safety we classify that as a deficiency," Naskrent said.

Areas requiring corrective action typically involve performance issues or other minor problems that wouldn't affect the public's safety.

Local governments had only a handful of minor issues. Goodhue County had only one problem, Dakota County had two and Pierce County had none.

Issues ranged from using the wrong checklists during briefings to not giving individuals in the field individual radiation measurement materials.

In addition, Goodhue, Dakota and Pierce counties had strengths recognized, including emergency operations centers' staff leadership and teamwork and adapting to different situations.

For example, Dakota County used its alternate Emergency Operations Center and faced the difficulty of having no landlines, conducting the whole drill with cell phones instead.

"They were the first in Region 5 to demonstrate that," Naskrent said, referencing the section of the country that includes Minnesota and five nearby states.

The state of Minnesota's major issue was that when it had to reroute traffic from the planned evacuation route, it directed drivers through the radiological plume that, according to the simulation, was coming from the plant.

It also faced four minor issues involving air monitoring and some procedures at the decontamination site for evacuees. Minnesota did have a communication and management strength noted.

"This is why we train," Minnesota Department of Public Safety Deputy Director Doug Neville said after Friday's presentation. "Every time we do this we learn something."

With so many different agencies involved, it is necessary to train as a group, he said.

Wisconsin officials had one minor problem involving missing labels on equipment.

The states and counties have time to talk about the results and present any information that might alter the findings before final reports are released in a few months, Naskrent said. The state of Minnesota already plans to discuss its results next week