What would happen if a sabotage effort or accident resulted in a shipment of radioactive waste spilling?
Local, state and federal emergency response personnel hope to never find out, but are preparing for the worst during a training exercise Thursday.
Preparedness for a radiological emergency is important considering Transuranic waste travels through the Interstate 20 corridor from Savannah River Site to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plat in Carlsbad, N.M., where it is safely and permanently disposed of.
More than 1,000 shipments have been sent to the plant from five locations throughout the country, said Ron Macaluso, a senior trainer for the plant, in a previous interview with The Columbia County News-Times.
The exercise, which includes 27 agencies, will simulate a TRUPACT-II transport vehicle traveling west on I-20 with two loaded containers. Transuranic waste consists of clothing, tools, rags, debris and other items contaminated with radioactive elements - mostly plutonium - accumulated during the nuclear weapons program.
"It is important to do the exercises," said Pam Tucker, Columbia County EMA director. "Everybody learns a lot. Our whole community will be better off for this in a lot of ways. I do not expect anything to ever happen to one of those WIPP trucks. But if it does, we will not be standing around saying, 'Oh, no, a big WIPP truck. What do we do?"'
After being rerouted to Wrightsboro Road because a vehicle pile-up, the truck will encounter other elements, causing spilling and injuries, Tucker said. Workers from at least 27 agencies will treat injuries, clean the area of any hazardous materials and inform the public of any dangers.
John Deere Parkway will be closed from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for the training.
"We are not going to close anything else off," Tucker said. "There will probably be some traffic control points set up, but that is only for law enforcement just to be sure they are in the right kind of positions if this were real. John Deere Parkway will be closed. In fact, the (Gold Cross AirMed) helicopter is going to land right in the middle of that road."
Tucker plans to activate and test the whole disaster, she said. Public warning systems including the MESSAGE911 automatic emergency telephone notification system, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration alert radios and the Emergency Alert System will be tested. The exercise will test the agencies' functions including communications, public warning, public information, incident command system, site security, hazardous material control, decontamination, mass feeding, resource management, ground and helicopter EMS, hospital emergency services and recovery.
The county has practiced all kinds of emergency situations from school violence and chemical to transportation and weather situations. Low-level radioactive waste is one of the hardest hazardous materials to train for, Macaluso said, which makes life-like training very important.
The exercise follows local agencies training in the classroom and practicing the event in a tabletop trial run complete with Matchbox cars, wreckers and ambulances, Tucker said.
"All of this will stick with people," Tucker said. "We have been in the classroom. We have done the tabletop (training exercise). We will do the hands-on. All of this will stick in everybody's minds for a response. All this training can be used for another scenario."
Local agencies involved include Columbia County Emergency Management Agency, Local Emergency Planning Committee, Hazardous Materials Response Team, Sheriff's Office, 911 Communications Center, Health Department, Roads and Bridges and Recreation Department in addition to fire departments, SRS teams and state and federal agencies.
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