During the 30 years the V.C. Summer nuclear plant has been in commercial operation in Fairfield County it has been a partner with the environment and the local community, ensuring a safe source of power.
A strong reason for the plant’s track record is the culture of safety that permeates the organization. At the V.C. Summer Nuclear plant every staff meeting begins and ends with the importance of safety.
“The nuclear industry is a continuous learning environment,”said Rhonda O’Banion, supervisor of public affairs for the SCANA Nuclear Operations and Development. “We are constantly benchmarking what other people in the industry are doing so that we can benefit from the best practices learned.”
One important component of that learning process is training, evaluating and retraining employees of what to do in the unlikely event of a nuclear emergency.
Every employee has three jobs, their normal job, an outage job that they perform every 18 months when the plant is shut down for refueling, and an emergency response job.
One of the plant’s emergency response centers is in an undisclosed location in northwest Columbia, where each of the plant’s four emergency response teams completes one drill per year.
Part of the training involves simulating parts breaking in the plant using a control room simulator at the V.C. Summer plant that is an exact replica of the control room in the emergency operations facility.
Technical support staff and center engineers must devise strategies to repair the simulated problem and the maintenance and support staff implements the technical support strategy.
Plant operators undergo rigorous training every five weeks, looking at every possible scenario imaginable.
The familiarity with stressful scenarios helps prepare them for the unlikely event of a nuclear emergency.
The week-long training includes classroom instruction, simulations and concludes with a written exam before participants meet to debrief and assess their performance.
Immediate feedback from controllers and evaluators allows teams to maximize the learning opportunities from the sessions.
Every six months, on-site evaluations are conducted at the V.C. Summer plant by resident inspectors who are the eyes and ears of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Two times a year, these inspectors will watch a drill and critique the process before they “evaluate the evaluators” to ensure the training meets, or exceeds all objectives.
That independent oversight over SCE&G by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is a key safety component of United States nuclear power.
The culture of safety extends beyond plant facilities to involve community members and state leaders. Every two years a team from Atlanta visits the plant and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) evaluates the teams for Fairfield, Newberry, Richland, and Lexington counties at the emergency operations center with representatives from sheriff’s departments, EMS and firefighters.
That evaluation also includes the state control center of the South Carolina Emergency Management Division.
Simulations are used to train emergency responders, especially firefighters and EMS workers who would respond to the plant in time of emergency.
Evacuation points can be set up as part of the exercise, with the S.C. Highway Patrol and with the local sheriff’s office.
“Typically, counties with a nuclear plant are more prepared for natural disasters, such as hurricanes, than other counties because the county officials train so often,” said Manager of SCE&G Emergency Planning Bob Williamson.
Public information officers from DHEC and from each of the four counties within the 10 miles surrounding the plant work together at the emergency operations facility.
The facility contains room for state and community emergency agencies in addition to a general communications room. One of the newer emergency operations facilities in the nation, the facility contains a room used for briefings and video conferences with officials in Atlanta and Washington, D.C.
There are areas for operations centers as well as a dose assessment room that examines ventilation and flow rates within the facility.
From the facility communications are coordinated with emergency services, S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.The command and control center contains the senior manager at the plant, who ensures all facilities do what is required to take care of the public, engineers, operators, security, maintenance and communications officials. From that center, officials can authorize repairs at the plant and dispatch teams to the area. The computer system also keeps a log of events and monitors wind direction.
Every three years the plant does Force on Force evaluations to test the highly trained security force’s ability to respond to a terrorist attack. Emergency planning is part of that operation that tests the plant’s multiple, redundant security systems.
Every five years a phone survey is done for feedback about how well persons can hear the 106 sirens within the ten mile zone.
A silent test is run every two weeks and on a quarterly basis a “growl test” which runs the sirens for one minute takes place. A three minute sounding of the sirens occurs annually.
Yearly calendars are distributed to residents living in the ten mile zone. The calendars contain detailed information of what to do in the unlikely event of a nuclear emergency.
They also contain a card that persons who are permanently disabled or housebound can fill out and return if they would need assistance during an emergency.
Those cards go on file with EMS and sheriff’s officers so that the proper procedures can be in place should the need arise. The S.C. Department of Social Services and DHEC have a list of people who are home bound, so if one has reported in as home bound to the health department, that step is taken care of.
School staff also have contingency plans they regularly are trained in to help keep children safe. In Fairfield County, the evacuation would occur to White Oak Conference Center for children at Kelly Miller Child Development Center, Kelly Miller School, and McCrorey-Liston School.
According to O’Banion, a 2011phone survey of people living within 10 miles of the plant found that the neighbors believed in the plant’s safety and felt well-informed about its operations.
The confidence was so high that the public approved the building of two new nuclear reactors in the area.
The plant’s accurate, timely, ongoing communication with the public is a key to that confidence as a culture of safety is shared with nearby residents and with Fairfield County.