Two day- training exercise at Temelín nuclear power plant shows room for improvement

The sound of sirens set in motion the wheels of a nightmare scenario at Temelín – a nuclear leak that would threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. The two-day training exercise held this week went through the motions of a crisis scenario involving Temelín employees, integrated rescue services and local officials in order to ascertain their action-capability and degree of coordination in the event of a real disaster.

Temelín training exercise, photo: CTKTemelín training exercise, photo: CTK The biggest fall-out was that the governor of south Bohemia was informed about the nuclear accident with a 30-minute delay. Radio Prague called Věra Starostová from the Office for Nuclear Safety to find out what went wrong.

“As far as I can estimate, the delay was caused by the fact that the shift engineer had other, more pressing duties to perform. The shift engineer is the person responsible for operating the nuclear reactor and it is my understanding that the delay in notifying the governor was due to his performing more pressing duties relating to nuclear safety. In my view the delay is not so important because the shift engineer is also responsible for starting the warning sirens that warn alert the public to danger and automatically launch a series of counter measures which are necessary for public safety. When they hear sirens people should switch on the radio or TV and follow the given instructions which include orders to stay at home – or an enclosed space – prepare to take iodine tablets and await further instructions.”

Temelín nuclear power plantTemelín nuclear power plant So what you are saying is that even if the governor was not informed immediately there was an emergency operation underway?

“Yes, yes that is right.”

Doesn’t the shift operator have any assistants – could not someone have stepped in and called the governor in his place?

“No, no. Only one person can be responsible for safety – and that is the shift operator.”

And as far as the rescue emergency operations which were put in motion are concerned – they all went according to plan, did they?

“Yes, they did. And I should mention that two action plans are put in place – one is the on-site emergency action plan applied to the nuclear power plant itself and the other is the so-called off-site emergency action plan which is applied in the emergency zone – that is the area in the vicinity of the nuclear power plant. The later is an action plan for all the rescue services and persons responsible for public safety in the affected area.”

Temelín training exercise, photo: CTKTemelín training exercise, photo: CTK The main line of criticism that we are hearing from NGOs, some of whom were present at the training session, is that people are not informed enough about what they should do in the event of a disaster, that the rescue operation does not take into account the possibility of panic, people jumping into their cars, trying to get as far away as possible, causing traffic jams. I heard one of the local women say she did get information brochures, but never actually bothered to read them. So do you think the public is adequately informed?

“Yes, I think the public gets sufficient information, but the question is how receptive they are to it. On the one hand, I can say that information brochures are regularly delivered to every household in the emergency planning zone (20 km radius) but the question is are they read? That is the personal responsibility of every person living near a nuclear power plant. I know that the operator of the plant is obliged – apart from distributing brochures – to organize meetings with people living in towns and villages in the plant’s vicinity. They organize such meetings from time to time but attendance is very low.”

Temelín nuclear power plantTemelín nuclear power plant So people are clearly not very worried about the possibility of an accident …

“Yes, that is the case. I am afraid that people are very lax. When there is no immediate danger or sense of emergency they do not care and they do not have time to spend on active preparation.”