Morris nuclear plant conducts drill

March 23, 2011 (JOLIET, Ill.)

The Dresden nuclear power plant is in Morris. The drill was held at a mock command center 10 miles away at the Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet. Participants practiced coordinating evacuations, setting up shelters and telling people where to go for health concerns.

Officials prepared for the worst, just to be safe. Safety drills are held at Illinois power plants every two years.

"We want to get as close to the plant as possible but not interfere or get into the emergency planning zone within 10 miles. So this is where we coordinate the response. This is where law enforcement, state police is involved here, natural resources and all the different state entities that would be participating in such an event," said Joseph Klinger, Ill. Emergency Management Agency.

Emergency crews were there with high-tech equipment to make sure that the power plant is safe.

The drill tests the response of state and local emergency agencies to a disaster at the Dresden nuclear power plant. The drill was scheduled years in advance, but it's timely in light of the nuclear disaster in Japan. The reactors at the Japanese power plant are much like those at Dresden and also around the same age.

In light of the Japanese disaster, Congressman Bobby Rush, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, went on a tour of the Dresden plant last week to get reassurances about its safety. Dresden is the oldest privately owned nuclear power facility in the country.

"There will never be a nuclear facility built where there is a 100-percent guarantee that something won't happen," said Rush.

During the tour, officials pointed out improvements they have made throughout the years to make it safer, including vents and backup generators to prevent explosions and losses of cooling water, problems that crippled the Japanese plant.

"We have backup systems here now that, I believe, that if they had had them there they would not have gotten to where they are," said Tim Hanley, Dresden nuclear plant.

The safety of Illinois' nuclear reactors also is the focus of a forum later in the week hosted by Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk. The forum will examine whether Illinois is prepared for an emergency.

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