A two-day hazardous material training course that prepared local emergency responders to identify and react to radiological hazards was conducted Thursday and Friday by the U.S. Department of Energy at Hinesville’s Fire Department Station 2.
Freddie Bell, instructor for the DOE’s Transportation Emergency Preparedness Program, emphasized that the class, called Modular Emergency Response Radiological Transportation Training, was free to the communities, which he said is especially helpful during these times of limited budgets. He said DOE subject matter experts already have taught the class to 2,500 students around the country.
“Radioactive materials are in every community every day,” said Bell, who is from Waynesboro, the site of the Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant’s new reactors that are expected to be built by 2016. “Radioactive materials are used by hospitals for testing and treatments. They’re used to check soil densities at construction sites and to check the welds on high-pressure natural gas lines. We teach first responders what to look for and how to identify radioactive materials then how to react to it, even who to request assistance from and what resources are available from the federal government.”
Bell demonstrated two kinds of containers used to transport radioactive materials. One was a heavy metal ammo-style box; the other was a small cardboard box. Both bore the international label for radioactive materials. He then described what he called a “Type B package,” which is used to transport materials like spent nuclear fuel.
“Even though these Type B packages have never been breached, we want our first responders to be able to recognize them, and if they see one at a traffic accident, they’ll know to be more careful,” he explained. “Nobody has ever died from a radiological contamination due to a radiological transportation accident.”
He said the hazmat training gave local firefighters, paramedics and law-enforcement officers a basic understanding of radiological survey instruments and decontamination techniques, including decontaminating victims. The course involved hours of hands-on activities, including using radiation-detection equipment and identifying types of radioactive packaging.
At one table, Ludowici/Long County Assistant Fire Chief Richard Truman worked to put a series of incidence sequence cards in proper order while Richmond Hill firefighter Lee Newton and other participants looked on.
At the same time, other attendees practiced using detection devices that allowed one firefighter to run a wand over an article of clothing taped to the wall to see if there were any traces of radioactivity, while another firefighter recorded the readings he got. After doing this several times, Hinesville firefighters Trey Heath and Casey Hale conducted this same “contamination survey” on Philip Chovan, former deputy fire chief for the Marietta Fire Department, who had traces of radioactive material in his clothing.
Regarding the recent approval for new reactors for the Vogtle plant, Bell said nuclear power is safer than most people think. Most of all, he said, it’s a tremendous plus for the state of Georgia because it will create 3,000 construction jobs in the building phase and 800 permanent jobs after operations begin.