Illinois 'prepared for anything,' IEMA official says


SPRINGFIELD -- If a natural disaster like the Japanese earthquake was to befall Illinois, would the state be prepared?

“We’re prepared for anything,” said Illinois Emergency Management Agency assistant director Joe Klinger.

“We’ve had severe windstorms, tornadoes, things like that that come through the areas. Our facilities are robust – they’ve met criteria specified by the U.S. NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) rules.”

For example, those rules specify that nuclear plants be designed to withstand an earthquake stronger than the largest the region has ever experienced. A September 2010 study of Midwestern plants found they were prepared to withstand such quakes.

IEMA independently monitors the 11 reactors in Illinois’ six nuclear power plants and coordinates with other government agencies, such as the Illinois State Police, to prepare for emergencies, Klinger said.

Were one of the reactors to melt down and vent irradiated gas into the air, the two important numbers are 10 and 50.

A 10-mile radius is the area that could be potentially contaminated by a meltdown, while crops and livestock within 50 miles could be made unsafe for future human consumption.

Within the 10-mile contamination zone, IEMA would deploy teams, a mobile command center and a mobile laboratory to gather data.

That data, along with information collected from sensors both inside and from miles around the plant, would be fed to the Remote Emergency Assessment Center, a high-tech facility where computers and staff assess the information. Officials there would make a recommendation to the governor, who would order appropriate action.

In a reactor meltdown, for instance, the governor could order an evacuation of the contaminated area, or for residents to take shelter.

The closest power plant to Springfield, the Clinton Nuclear Power Plant, is outside that 10-mile radius.

Incidents are graded on a scale of one to four, one being an unusual incident, two an alert, three a site-area emergency and four being a general emergency. An unusual incident would include a sensor operating outside of normal parameters, while a general emergency would include a reactor meltdown.

Illinois has had two alerts in the last 10 years and one site-area emergency, which was due to a faulty sensor, Klinger said.

Andy Brownfield can be reached at (217) 782-3095.

How a nuclear reactor works

In typical boiling water reactors, radioactive material in the core creates heat, which heats water producing steam. This steam goes through two moisture separation stages, where water droplets are removed, and the steam turns a turbine, which generates electricity.

A meltdown can occur when, through loss of power or some other event, coolant stops flowing and the core overheats, turning the nuclear material into radioactive slag.

All nuclear power plants have backup diesel power generators and, since 9/11, backups for the backup generators.

Source: Illinois Emergency Management Agency