Dominion shows off new emergency operations center

[Editor's note: The original version of this story was edited at 4:45 p.m. to clarify that the emergency center is the main operations center; the support center is redundant and would only be used if a similar center in Waterford had to be evacuated.]

Norwich — The region’s political leaders and public-safety officials went on a Dominion-led tour Friday of a new 18,000-square-foot emergency operations center completed last month on Stott Avenue in the Stanley Israelite Business Park. 

The facility, which would serve as the center of emergency operations in case of a major incident at the Millstone Station in Waterford, will be unoccupied most of the time, though officials plan to use it during emergency drills that occur six to eight times a year. 

The building, which cost power plant operator Dominion between $5 million and $10 million to construct, was a requirement of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The NRC mandated its completion by the end of the year so that Millstone could be monitored and controlled from afar — about 20 miles away — in case of an emergency, according to company spokesman Ken Holt. 

“Fukushima got things moving more quickly,” Holt said, referring to the Japanese nuclear power plant that was damaged in a 2011 earthquake and tsunami, leading to dangerous radiation releases. 

Among officials taking a tour of the building Friday were U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, Waterford First Selectman Dan Steward and East Lyme First Selectman Mark Nickerson. 

The new building, replacing a previous emergency center near the plant in Waterford, includes radiation-detection equipment that personnel from Millstone will have to use upon entrance via a security card. Nearby showers stand at the ready in case anyone’s readings show excessive exposure. 

A room near the entrance marked as Muster Area allows responding employees to gather, awaiting their specific assignments and a briefing about the situation. 

“Hope for the best, prepare for the worst” is the mantra of the emergency operations, Holt said. 

A support center allows engineers to make an assessment about the functioning of the plant, which can be checked on several flat-screen monitors. The area, which will be occupied only if a redundant operation near the power station in Waterford has to be evacuated, also includes manual plant drawings as well as an old microfiche machine that is in the process of being converted to a computer-based system. 

The main room of the operations center includes a bank of 12 flat-screen monitors that extend about 16 feet wide and seven feet high. From here, Dominion officials have two direct lines to Hartford so they can brief state officials, including the governor, in an emergency. 

The facility also has 12 satellite phones — important in emergencies when cellphones and other communication devices, including landlines, may no longer work. 

The Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan withstood the double shock of a 9.0 magnitude quake followed by a tsunami wave reportedly 45 feet high. 

“The twin catastrophes wiped out the normal power and backup generators of nearly all the plant’s six reactors and also damaged roads and communication lines through which the plant could seek help,” according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. 

Tom Rigney, supervisor of emergency preparedness for Millstone Station, said one of the key areas of the new operations center is the dose assessment room, where managers predict the risk of possible radiation exposure to people within a 10-mile radius of the plant during an emergency. The company, he said, would come up with protective action recommendations that would be sent to the governor along with separate recommendations from officials at the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. 

“Once we declare a general (highest state of) emergency, we have 15 minutes to make a recommendation to the state,” Rigney said. 

It then would be up to the governor to make a final decision on evacuations and other measures, he said. Once a decision is made, he added, the state takes over control of communicating to the public and emergency responders around the region. 

The 10-mile evacuation zone, a radius determined as most at risk for radioactive exposure following the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania, includes residents in Old Lyme, East Lyme, Waterford, New London, Groton, Fishers Island and portions of Lyme and Ledyard. 

The NRC and the Town of Waterford have separate rooms at the facility, allowing top town and federal officials to coordinate efforts from a central location. 

There are four emergency-classification levels at nuclear power plants, which from least dangerous to most worrisome are: unusual event, alert, site area and general emergency. Use of the Norwich operations center will be activated only when the emergency level reaches the alert level, officials said, at which time radiation-detection teams could be dispatched from a garage in the facility to help the dose-assessment team determine if evacuation is necessary.

l.howard@theday.com 

Twitter: @KingstonLeeHow

Norwich City Manager Alan Bergren, right, joins a tour Friday of the new Millstone Emergency Operations Center established by Dominion in the Stanley Israelite Business Park in Norwich.
Norwich City Manager Alan Bergren, right, joins a tour Friday of the new Millstone Emergency Operations Center established by Dominion in the Stanley Israelite Business Park in Norwich.

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