New Hampshire “Lessons Learned” from Radiological Emergency Workshop

[Editor’s Note:  This is the third and final installment in our series of reports on New Hampshire’s efforts to assess drinking water and wastewater system needs, responses, and next steps based on a ‘radiological release’ scenario.]

On September 14, 2011 the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, Drinking Water and Groundwater Bureau (DWGB) held what is believed to be the first radiological emergency workshop specifically for drinking water and wastewater facilities.  Just under 100 people attended including staff from drinking water and wastewater utilities, state public health programs, state drinking water programs, EPA Region 1, and FEMA.

The purpose of the workshop was to educate drinking water and wastewater utilities on radiological emergencies and provide a basic understanding of how it could affect their facility and what response efforts to expect at the local, state and federal level.  The DWGB invited community water systems and wastewater facilities within 50 miles of Seabrook Station and Vermont Yankee nuclear plants along with drinking water and wastewater systems in Massachusetts and Vermont within 10 miles of the two nuclear plants.

The workshop began with a presentation from Anthony Honnellio, Radiation Program Manager from EPA Region 1, to provide basics on radiation, EPA’s response role, and their response to Fukushima, Japan nuclear incident.  Tony explained how EPA’s Office of Radiation and Indoor Air can provide response teams, protective action guides, technical assistance, and monitoring, sampling and assessment capabilities.  Then, New Hampshire’s Public Health Physicist and Manager of the Emergency Planning & Response Program, Jerry Kwasnik, Ph.D., provided information on the state role as the lead agency in a radiological event.  Jerry explained the various roles and responsibilities for multiple state agencies including Department of Agriculture, Department of Food Protection, Department of Environmental Services, State Police, and National Guard, to name just a few.  Jerry provided a bonus presentation on basic nuclear power plant operations during lunch.

After lunch, Mark Parsons, Regional Response Coordinator with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) described the federal response.  DOE can provide first response capabilities including consultation on health problems, aviation based equipment, and real-time prediction of atmospheric transport of radioactivity.  In addition, the Federal Radiological Monitoring and Assessment Center (FRMAC) is established in response to an event and is a coalition of all federal off-site radiological monitoring and assessment efforts.  Finally, Mark described how DOE coordinates radiological monitoring and assessment activities for the initial emergency and intermediate phases, and EPA coordinates the intermediate to long-term activities.  The day’s final speaker, Don Keeler, Section Chief at NH Homeland Security and Emergency Management, finished up by walking participants through WebEOC which is the crisis information management software program that is used to track all activities during emergency events in New Hampshire.  Don described the importance of the tool, who uses it and how to obtain access and that the responsibility for protective action decision making rests with the State.

The group then split into breakout groups  focused on groundwater, surface water or wastewater.  The breakout session involved a scenario and a list of questions including:

• Is any of your critical infrastructure (reservoirs, pump stations, treatment plants) or sources located within the Emergency Planning Zone (EPZ)?  How will you access it?

• Are reservoirs protected against airborne radioactive material?

• Are water tanks constructed of or painted with non-permeable material?

• Do you supply water to the nuclear power plant for drinking, fire suppression, or cooling?

• Could water be supplied to your system from outside the EPZ through interconnections?

• How do you plan to remove radioactive iodine from the drinking water?  Who can assist with this?

• Are surface water sources, or drinking water and wastewater infrastructure susceptible to runoff from water suppression systems used at the nuclear power plant?

• Are mains/transmission/collection lines susceptible to infiltration of radioactive material in the soil?

• Where do you obtain KI (potassium iodide) pills?

• Does your plant have a Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) if you are unable to utilize your facility(ies)?

• What actions do you take if there is an “Unusual Event” at Seabrook or Vermont Yankee?  Is this part of your Emergency Response Plan (ERP)?

• Have you identified critical functions that if maintained could limit/reduce the effects of a release of radionuclide?

• Have you identified critical personnel to manage the aforementioned functions?

• Have you conducted cross-training to ensure critical functions are maintained?

• Discuss what type of field tests should be performed, what type of sampling equipment might be required (e.g. Geiger counters), and how to select appropriate screening locations.

While many utilities have experienced power outages, flooding and debris removal from natural disasters, a radiological event is different in many ways.  Based on the breakout discussions, participants raised a substantial number of questions that could benefit from further discussion and issues that deserve additional attention.  While not a comprehensive list, some of these included policy topics such as whether/how/when/should local actions be subject to state direction and coordination.

On the technical front, workshop participants also considered what type of sampling will need to be done short term and long term and who will take the samples?  What treatment modifications are there to remove radiological contaminants? Is there a plan for short term and long term operations and technical assistance for treatment?  Concerns were expressed regarding rain and wash water from contaminated buildings and sidewalks entering into sources and wastewater treatment plants; storage tanks and whether contaminants could enter through vents (should systems keep storage tanks full so they don’t draw in radiation through the vents?); and will there be enough staff to respond?  Are people not going to show up to work because they are afraid of radiation exposure?

Participants were also clear about the need for greater understanding of the importance of coordination with local emergency management directors; understanding of KI pills, how to know when to take them, and whether operators are on the list of first responders to receive them?

As with all successful workshops, there was not enough time for all questions to be answered.  As part of an informal “post-event analysis,” participants suggested that presentations could be condensed to allow more time for discussion and, subsequently, more time for the breakout sessions.  However, participants were pleased to learn that there are various resources available for determining contamination levels, sampling assistance, and guidance with decision making.

In answer to the “Now what?” question, the Drinking Water and Groundwater Bureau hopes to continue to learn and gather information for a Part 2 workshop which would delve into the details of specific impacts to drinking water and wastewater including specific treatments or processes to deal with radiological contamination.

For more information about this workshop, please contact Johnna McKenna, New Hampshire Drinking Water Program, at Johnna.McKenna@des.nh.gov

 

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