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Published on April 15, 2024
Washington Holds Nuclear Disaster Response Drill, Testing Readiness at Only Northwest Commercial Nuclear FacilitySource: Washington Military Department

In preparation for a scenario that nobody wishes to ever unfold, the Washington Emergency Management Division recently led a comprehensive nuclear emergency exercise. The three-day drill, conducted in March, was a proactive response that involved local, state, and federal agencies. It intended to rigorously test preparedness measures for a possible radiological incident at the Columbia Generating Station, as detailed by the Washington Military Department.

Every eight years, agencies are required to go beyond basic training protocols and engage in a more intricate drill, which this year was observed and graded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). No major issues were to publicly emerge from the exercise, an exercise designed to simulate the urgent need for protective actions like evacuations or shelter-in-place orders depending on the imagined situation. Such drills are critical to ensure that responses are swift and effective in the event of an actual emergency.

Participants in this elaborate safety dance included Energy Northwest, the operator of the Columbia Generating Station—which is not only the only commercial nuclear energy facility in the Northwest but also Washington state’s third-largest electricity generator. County participants stretched from Benton to Yakima and included state departments of Agriculture, Health, and Transportation, among others, along with Oregon state agencies, FEMA, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Day one of the exercises saw immediate decisions being forcefully made about protective actions, while day two focused on post-incident strategies, such as managing the agricultural impact and advising on food safety. Concerns about relocation timelines for residents and the direction a hypothetical plume might travel were also to be worked through. The hands-on drill was extended into the third day, providing dedicated support to enhance local jurisdiction preparedness, as the Washington Military Department’s official statement informed.

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