The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Uranium plants disaster satisfies goals for training
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires the exercise every two years to make sure everyone is ready.

By Bill Bartleman
Courtesy of Lourdes This is only a test: A 'victim' of a fire at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant is moved into a decontamination tent set up outside Lourdes hospital during a disaster drill Tuesday morning.

A fire in a process building. Spilled and leaking uranium hexafluoride. Five injured. One dead.

It was the kind of emergency at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant that officials hope never happens, but one that they will be better able to handle because of a simulated disaster Tuesday morning.

The biennial training exercise is required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to test the plant's emergency plan and response by outside agencies.

"It allowed a lot of different disciplines at the plant to practice the plan," said Elizabeth Stuckle, spokeswoman for USEC, the plant operator. "It involved fire, medical response, radiation monitoring teams, the emergency operations center and a joint public information center with outside agencies."

She said about 300 USEC workers were involved in playing the role of injured workers and carrying out the emergency plan. It also involved 40 to 50 people from outside agencies including the West McCracken Fire Department, the West McCracken ambulance service, the Concord Fire Department, Lourdes hospital, Western Baptist Hospital and the coroner.

Stuckle said USEC established 21 objectives for the drill, and a self-evaluation determined that each one was met. "It is significant that all 21 objectives were met but doesn't mean that there aren't areas that need improvement," Stuckle said.

The objectives ranged from activating the emergency operations center to putting out the fire and opening an information center.

NRC inspectors will meet with USEC officials today, and Stuckle predicted they also will conclude that all of the objectives were met. NRC will issue a written report in about a month.

The drill also gave Lourdes hospital a chance to test its new portable decontamination tent. The test went well, according to Donna Croft, emergency room manager. Although the hospital knew a patient with simulated injures and radiation contamination was going to be brought in, she said workers didn't begin setting up the tent until notified by USEC.

"We got a call and were told the patient was seven to eight minutes out ... we had everything set up and ready to go by the time the patient arrived," Croft said. "The tent enables us to decontaminate the patient, treat injuries and get them into the emergency room as quickly as possible." Some of the doctors and other hospital workers wore protective suits.

The simulated emergency was prepared by USEC personnel, but plant workers were not told of problems they would face.

It began with a simulated fire in a process building that required assistance from fire departments in the county, Stuckle said.

The simulation continued during the fire when a cylinder containing liquid uranium hexafluoride was dropped in another building, causing a leak.

The simulation included the death of the injured and contaminated worker who was taken to Lourdes.