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Fission Stories #125: St. Lucie and Freedom of the Press

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On September 3, 1980, the owner of the St. Lucie Nuclear Station in Florida conducted an emergency drill. Part of the drill examined the performance of local emergency and rescue organizations. Plant workers notified local officials of the drill and requested that an emergency crew be dispatched to the site.

An emergency vehicle rushed to the site as requested. Security guards waved the vehicle through the security gate. A security guard guided the emergency crew to the auxiliary building and then escorted the crew into the main control room.

Inside the control room, plant workers discovered that an unauthorized person had accompanied the emergency responders onto the plant site and into the control room. That individual – a reporter for a local newspaper – was promptly escorted out of the plant.

The reporter had been working on a series of articles about local and emergency organizations when the drill started. He tagged along with the emergency crew as they responded to the plant’s call and inadvertently gained access to the main control room of the St. Lucie nuclear plant.

Talk about freedom of the press!

Our Takeaway

Incidents like this one demonstrate the value of the periodic emergency exercises. In addition to their value helping onsite and offsite responders gain awareness about their roles and responsibilities during a nuclear plant accident, they reveal glitches from time to time.

It is far better to find and fix a glitch during an exercise than to encounter it during an actual emergency. The intense stress and strain inherent with actual nuclear plant emergencies has a way of growing glitches into gaping holes.

While it’s best never to experience an actual nuclear plant emergency so as to avoid even the potential for tripping over a glitch, second-best is finding and fixing glitches during exercises where even the trips are simulated.

 

“Fission Stories” is a weekly feature by Dave Lochbaum. For more information on nuclear power safety, see the nuclear safety section of UCS’s website and our interactive map, the Nuclear Power Information Tracker.

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About the author: Mr. Lochbaum received a BS in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Tennessee in 1979 and worked as a nuclear engineer in nuclear power plants for 17 years. In 1992, he and a colleague identified a safety problem in a plant where they were working. When their concerns were ignored by the plant manager, the utility, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), they took the issue to Congress. The problem was eventually corrected at the original plant and at plants across the country. Lochbaum joined UCS in 1996 to work on nuclear power safety. He spent a year in 2009-10 working at the NRC Training Center in Tennessee. Areas of expertise: Nuclear power safety, nuclear technology and plant design, regulatory oversight, plant license renewal and decommissioning

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