DOE site goes through emergency exercise

By Frank Lewis

October 27, 2013

Frank Lewis

PDT Staff Writer

As the sun came up over the Department of Energy reservation in Piketon Saturday, scores of people were already on the job responding to what amounted to a emergency exercise. The atmosphere was cold, the wind made the temperature even colder, yet the employees sprung into action each knowing his and her job and not hesitating to get that job done.

It consisted of a theee-part scenario based on an industrial accident as a result of the release of UF-6. Uranium hexafluoride (UF6), referred to as “hex” in the nuclear industry, is a compound used in the uranium enrichment process that produces fuel for nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons. It forms solid grey crystals at standard temperature and pressure, is highly toxic, reacts violently with water, and is corrosive to most metals.

An employee, Wally Cox, was lying on the ground covered with fake blood as the victim of the accident as things began to unfold in the exercise. Nearby emergency personnel arrived at the scene and began to assess the situation. Fire trucks, ambulances arrived and a command center was set up.

Steve Arnold of DOE said the scenario was that a crane carrying a hot liquid cylinder had malfunctioned dropping the cylinder which had burst, releasing the substance. Immediate response consisted of several fire trucks and ambulances. The command shift supervisor took charge of the scene, as the victim was moved from the site of the mishap and other agencies began to be notified.

That notification was made to area county emergency management teams and fire departments, who became support units for the incident. Simultaneously, several other offices of the DOE became involved.

“From Washington D.C. to Chicago, from Columbus to Oak Ridge, Tenn., everyone is a part of this exercise,” Arnold said. “Forty-six controllers, 16 players, six victims and a lot of role players are involved in making this exercise happen.”

In another scenario, which branched off the original staged mishap, two people at a nearby cemetery began exhibiting symptoms of exposure. Portsmouth Ambulance, one of the mutual aid squads, also responded and the original victim was moved to Adena Medical Center in Chillicothe.

Matt Vick, infrastructure project manager for DOE, said that while there is a scenario, the purpose of the exercise is to see how everyone reacts in an emergency, since there is no actual script and those involved are only told an overview of the event, so that those people grading the response can get a good view of how it would play out in real time.

Among those observing and evaluating were representatives from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Vick said such exercises are performed every two years to meet their obligations.

The event began at around 8:45 a.m. when the public address system was sounded, first with a horn, then an actual announcement. Vick said there are other similar PA systems set up, and as the perimeter expands, the PAs are activated in those areas as well.

Vick said a debriefing is held at the end of the day, with a more comprehensive critique session on Monday. Grading is done and any problems are then used to upgrade the protocol and fine tune the way personnel respond in an emergency.

Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at flewis@civitasmedia.com. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.