COVERT TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) - Though a nuclear disaster at Palisades nuclear power plant in Covert Township is unlikely, plans have long been in place to respond to one.
Concerns about the safety of the plant have risen after nine shutdowns since September 2011 -- the most recent of which was May 5 and was caused by a leaky water tank -- and a February 2012 downgrade by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Preparing for a possible nuclear disaster at Palisades is a coordinated effort involving federal, state and local emergency management agencies.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency released a report last month detailing the results from a Palisades nuclear fallout drill held in October 2012. The drill focused on plans for evacuating populations, decontamination of residents, food and livestock, and protecting emergency workers and equipment from exposure to radiation.
If a nuclear disaster did occur, the area of primary exposure would be within a 10-mile radius of the plant. It includes mainly Van Buren County.
When the plant was most recently shut down after 79 gallons of "slightly radioactive water" leaked from a storage tank into a pond that runs into Lake Michigan, the South Haven Fire Chief commented on the area's evacuation and decontamination plan.
"They already have the routes designated. They have care facilities. They have centers opened up if there were people concerned about radiation, they could go there and be monitored to make sure they didn't have any radiation exposure to them. And if they did, they are prepared to decontaminate them as well as our firefighters and equipment," Ronald Wise, executive director of South Haven Area Emergency Services, said.
A fallout radius of 50 miles includes Allegan, Bary, Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo, Kent, Ottawa, St. Joe and Van Buren counties, as well as three Indiana counties: St. Joe, Elkart and LaPorte.
Those counties also participated in last year's drill and keep a close eye on what's going on at Palisades.
"It wouldn't impact our entire county, but it could reach into St. Joe County, so it's better to be prepared," St. Joe, County, Ind. Emergency Management Director William Zimmerman said.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, in the 50-mile contamination zone around Palisades, there are more than 1.4 million residents, 508 public schools and 64 hospitals.
But depending on which way the wind blows the potential for radiation sickness, evacuation zones, and people forced to shelter could be much greater.
In the conclusion, the FEMA report says the area is adequately prepared to handle a radiation emergency.
There were a few areas like a Department of Environment Quality lab that needed to take some corrective action, but that's why the drills are held.
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