Federal regulators have concluded that more than 500 emergency planning officials demonstrated their ability to protect the health and safety of the public if a radiological emergency should occur at the San Onofre nuclear plant.

Following an emergency exercise on Oct. 23, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) officials reaffirmed to the public that Southern California Edison’s emergency response organization would adequately protect the public in the event of an emergency at San Onofre.

“It was a very good exercise,” said Richard Grundstrom, a technical hazard branch chief for FEMA, which observed and evaluated the drill, along with the NRC. He said SCE took all appropriate steps and that no major areas of concern were identified.

Gilbert Guerra, the NRC evaluator, also speaking at a news conference on Oct. 25 in Oceanside, noted that San Onofre can effectively implement its plan “and can protect the health and safety of the public.” 

The NRC and FEMA indicated they will follow up on their preliminary assessments with a formal evaluation later this year.

All of San Onofre’s on-site emergency response facilities and the Joint Information Center in Irvine were activated as part of the Oct. 23 drill, and the communities surrounding the plant fully activated their facilities as well. FEMA had 25 evaluators located at 14 facilities covering the exercise and looking at 141 exercise objectives.

The NRC requires every utility that operates a nuclear power plant to demonstrate its ability, once every two years, to respond to a radiological emergency. While San Onofre is a decommissioning facility, rather than an operating nuclear plant, it continues to adhere to NRC emergency planning requirements.

The announcement that the San Onofre nuclear plant would be retired was made by majority owner Southern California Edison (SCE) on June 7. SCE said that the continuing uncertainty about when or if Unit 2 might return to service was not good for customers, investors or the need to plan for the region’s long-term electricity needs.