WASHINGTON – The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has agreed to give the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant another year to complete a test of its emergency preparedness, after post-Sept. 11 fears delayed the originally scheduled test.
The test, which must be performed every two years, was originally set for Sept. 25. But plant officials worried that a test so soon after the terrorist attacks on the United States would distract state and local emergency teams during the heightened state of alert that followed those attacks.
And with Calvert Cliffs on its highest level of alert, plant officials did not want to pull their own security employees to perform the drills.
Constellation Energy Group, which owns the twin reactor power plant at Calvert Cliffs, asked the commission to postpone the drill.
“We didn’t want to divert emergency workers from their job of protecting the public during the heightened state of alert,” said Karl Neddenien, a spokesman for Constellation.
The plant also wanted to avoid frightening the public, said Neddenien. Because emergency personnel use two-way radios as part of the drills, people who listen to police scanners can hear any discussion of a mock emergency — something that officials thought inappropriate in the weeks after the terrorist attacks.
“If that were overheard, it could have caused concern,” Neddenien said.
Every two years, the NRC requires the plant to coordinate a mock emergency response exercise with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, state emergency agencies and Calvert, St. Mary’s and Dorchester counties.
During the drill, the agencies practice their response to the worst possible nuclear emergency: a release of radiation from the power plant. After the exercise, the NRC evaluates the plant’s response to the mock emergency, while FEMA grades the outside agencies on their performance.
The last drill, performed in October 1999, showed that Calvert Cliffs’ “onsite emergency plans are adequate and the staff is capable of implementing them,” said NRC spokeswoman Diane Screnci.
The agency has given the plant until the end of September 2002 to perform the drill, which has tentatively been scheduled for Sept. 10, officials said.