Practicing for the big one

Officials run a drill of a nuclear emergency at Waterford 3

“Listen up people, at 10:15 a.m., Waterford 3 has called a site emergency. I repeat, a site emergency,” said Tab Troxler.

The problem with the giant nuclear facility was a plane had flown into the nuclear reactor.

Thankfully, it was only a drill.Last Thursday on a bright and sunny afternoon, while school was coming to close for the summer, parish officials ran a drill practicing for the area’s worst nightmare next to a direct hit from a hurricane: a nuclear emergency at Waterford 3.

Sitting along the Mississippi River in between Killona and Taft, the Entergy-run facility is a pressurized water reactor; it produces over 1000 megawatts of energy, supplying communities all over the River Parishes and New Orleans.

Deep in the bunker below the parish courthouse, while residents remained oblivious, officials from the police, fire, hospital and school departments assembled at the nerve center of Emergency Operations Center carrying out a nuclear emergency designed by Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Every other year FEMA requires that the parish run a drill in case of an emergency. Parish officials remain in the dark on the specifics, requiring them to carry out real-time situations and experiencing different problems that could arise, such as marshalling resources to evacuate elderly citizens in the area.

With EOC Director Tab Troxler at the helm, a scenario was envisioned whereby communities staged an evacuation for 2 to 3 miles around the plant and 5 miles downwind. The communities hypothetically affected were the Taft and Killona areas.

“The remainder of the parish went under a shelter and place order,” said Troxler, whereby they remained in their homes awaiting further instruction. These residents were told to stay inside, close all doors and windows, bring pets inside and turn off fans.

“Two of the three barriers that protect us from radiation failed,” said Troxler, as lights bleeped and blinked. In almost every sense, the exercise had a real, anxious feel. This is called a general emergency, which is a higher level crisis from the initial site emergency.

Once the call goes out from Waterford 3, officials from all major agencies assemble at the EOC. In the nerve center, phones buzz and hum with questions coming in and directions going out. Ball fields became evacuation centers. Spots in Kenner became decontamination centers.

While this type of exercise might seem hyperbolic, in post-9/11 America, a plane flying into nuclear reactor near a population center is a reality. The drill was only a practice. In a month, the parish and Entergy will be graded on another exercise.

As the parish carried out their exercise, officials from Entergy were running their own drill. Entergy is required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to run the drill, as it is required to certify the facility.

Troxler pointed out that there has never been a major emergency at the site, but thought that the exercise is excellent training. He also said that it helps with preparing for hurricane evacuations or explosions at Valero.

“I urge all residents to familiarize themselves with the safety brochure that Waterford 3 sent out around the area. There is a great deal of information in it, and it is for the safety of their families.” said Troxler. Jack Lewis, Manager of Emergency Preparations at Waterford said: “The people of Waterford 3 are commited to the safety and security of the community. We regularly conduct emergency drills with parish, state and federal officials to ensure an effective response in the unlikely event of an emergency. We also use these opportunities to reinforce our excellent relations with St. Charles Parish officials.”


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