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FEMA Gives Thumbs Up To Virginia Nuclear Prep Test

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Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) / (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) / (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — When powerful storms swept through Virginia in late June, leaving more than 1 million utility customers without power, emergency responders could have taken a rain check on a make-believe nuclear-power crisis at North Anna Power Station scheduled in the storm’s wake.

They didn’t, however, and Friday they learned hundreds of state and local emergency responders performed nearly flawlessly, according to their federal counterpart.

“All these folks followed their plans and their procedures as described,” Darrell W. Hammons of the Federal Emergency Management Administration said after a briefing with state and local emergency preparedness officials. “These folks are an extremely capable group of people.”

A final report on the simulated disaster during the week of July 9 will be issued within 90 days to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“At this point, we’ve identified nothing detrimental that would impact the health and safety around the North Anna site,” said Hammons, who chairs FEMA’s radiological assistance committee. “You have a very cohesive community.”

The simulated nuclear emergency involved the state Department of Emergency Management and emergency personnel from five counties around the nuclear power plant: Caroline, Hanover, Louisa, Orange and Spotsylvania.

The pretend radiological emergency involved an area within a 10-mile radius of the twin-reactor power plant operated by Dominion Virginia Power on Lake Anna. Nuclear power plant workers were also put through the paces during the simulation of a radiological leak.

For state and local emergency crews, the exercise involved traffic management, radiological monitoring and radio communications. The state coordinated the exercise and nearly 50 people were involved in the evaluation of hundreds of local officials.

Jack King, chief deputy coordinator for the state’s emergency management agency, said officials reached out to local responders to see if they wanted to delay the simulation while they dealt with the June 29 wind storm that battered the state and the region. They all declined.

“First responders can’t take time out in a disaster, and that’s true,” King said. “Even though it’s just an exercise, in real life it can happen.

“It showed the resilience and the preparation of the localities, that they were ready for it,” King said.

Lt. Michael E. Schlemmer of the Louisa County Department of Emergency Services said the storm’s aftermath was not the only challenge facing the 100 people involved in the exercise in his county.

“We had our hands full with the storm and on the same day that the storm was going on, we were burying one of our firefighters,” he said.

The preliminary evaluation, conducted in a suburban Richmond hotel, also included pointed questions from Chris Dorsey, who said he was one of the founders of the Occupy movement in Richmond and a candidate for the office of city sheriff.

He argued that the nuclear power plant should be decommissioned because of its proximity to the epicenter of an August 2011 earthquake that shut down the two reactors. The magnitude- 5.8 quake caused peak ground movement about twice the level for which it was designed.

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(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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