A firefighter trained to respond to radiological events performs a radiological survey of the WIPP shipping package as part of a WIPP transportation exercise in Morgan County, Georgia.
The on-scene incident commander briefs a responder during an April 17 WIPP transportation exercise in Georgia.
COVINGTON, Ga. – Emergency personnel throughout the U.S. who respond in the event of a potential accident involving radioactive waste shipments take part in mock training scenarios to help them prepare for an actual incident.
One such scenario for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) Transportation Exercise (WIPPTREX) occurred last month. In the staged event, a truck hauling transuranic (TRU) waste from the Savannah River Site in South Carolina to WIPP in New Mexico was rerouted onto a Georgia highway due to a fog-related traffic accident on an interstate. As the truck proceeded on the alternate route, it became involved in a vehicle pileup. The WIPP truck and cargo sustained minor damage, but the simulated chain-reaction event resulted in four fatalities and more than 40 people injured. Calls started rolling in to the local 911 dispatch center.
“This is an exercise,” dispatchers told responders in the field. That phrase was echoed hundreds of times before the day was over. Georgia’s Emergency Management Agency hosted the full-scale WIPPTREX in Morgan County to test the integrated response skills of state and federal agencies to a mass casualty scenario involving a WIPP truck.
“This was an impressive full-scale exercise with more than 60 response organizations playing a role,” said Bill Mackie, DOE Carlsbad Field Office (CBFO) National TRU Program Institutional Affairs Manager. “Georgia Emergency Management Agency personnel did a great job of planning the exercise and pulling the resources together to effectively respond.” Mackie monitors the WIPP external emergency management program.
The CBFO National TRU Program assists in training first responders along WIPP transportation corridors.
The WIPP external emergency management group has trained more than 30,000 first responders since 1988. The DOE-funded training and exercises prepare emergency personnel to respond effectively in the event of a WIPP transportation accident. The benefits, according to responders, go beyond WIPP transportation. The training better prepares them to deal with hazardous material accidents and other large-scale transportation emergencies.
WIPP’s emergency response training is thorough and its transportation system is one of the safest on the nation’s highways. WIPP drivers have logged more than 12.5 million loaded miles — equivalent to 26 roundtrips from the earth to the moon — to deliver 10,500 shipments safely to WIPP.
In addition, TRU waste shipments are tracked by satellite and monitored around the clock from a secure control center at WIPP. Designated federal, state and Tribal officials can monitor shipments.
A byproduct of the nation’s nuclear defense programs, TRU waste is contaminated with radioactive elements that have atomic numbers greater than uranium. The waste in shipped to WIPP for disposal in rooms mined out of an ancient salt formation more than 2,100 feet below the surface.