Ginna power plant says it’s prepared for disaster.

While Japanese authorities struggle to contain the damage from a crippled nuclear power plant, local emergency management officials are watching the developments with interest.

“Any time there is any type of disaster, there is always something you can learn from it,” said William Pulver, training officer for the Wayne County Office of Emergency Management.

Pulver said the massive earthquake and tsunami that triggered the nuclear crisis are things that “we in Wayne County will never experience.”

But he does see it as a chance to learn from the Japanese response.  

Maria Hudson, senior analyst for communication at the Ginna plant, said that while it is still too early to draw lessons from Japan, company officials are watching with interest.   

“We’re talking with others in the industry, in this country and around the world, to pull together the lessons learned,” Hudson said.
 
The risks

Like the two other Constellation Energy nuclear power plants, the Ginna facility is outfitted with extremely sensitive seismic monitoring equipment that can detect even the smallest disturbance, Hudson said.

The safeguards

Hudson said the plant has been specially designed to withstand “the worst-case seismic scenarios,” along with other natural disasters like flooding, tornados and high winds. The facility includes redundant safety systems and a “defense and depth” approach to ensuring safety in the event of a shutdown. Radioactive fuel rods have three layers of protection. The rods themselves are surrounded by a zirconium cladding, which are then encapsulated in a steel vessel.  

Emergency planning

Officials at the Ginna Plant have worked closely with local governments and emergency responders to develop an emergency response plan for residents living in the 10-mile emergency planning zone surrounding the plant, Hudson said.

Training

Safety and emergency response training occur frequently at the facility, involving both plant personnel and its community partners, Hudson said. The plant conducts between 10 to 12 safety drills each year, as well as annual disaster drills alongside hospitals, police and emergency management departments, she said. Every other year, the plant holds drills that are graded by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Waste storage

The safest place to store spent fuel rods for the time being, Hudson said, is at the site of the plant. At Ginna, spent rods are sealed in steel-lined concrete vaults that are filled with water. Last summer, the plant finished work on an independent spent fuel rod storage installation, where the rods will be stored until the federal government approves of a permanent repository for nuclear waste.