Mar 23, 2009 - 10:16 AM
DURHAM -- Pandemic plans are in place at Durham's nuclear plants to keep the electricity flowing in the event of an outbreak of infectious disease such as a deadly flu.
In the wake of the SARS outbreak in 2003, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) went through a lengthy process to prepare a plan for a pandemic both at the corporate level and at its business units, including Pickering and Darlington nuclear plants.
"(SARS) was a real eye opener not just for the electricity industry and OPG, but many folks around the province," said Jim Coles, manager of emergency preparedness, speaking to the Pickering nuclear plant's community advisory council. "There were a lot of lessons learned around that event."
After more than two years of work, OPG was declared pandemic-ready in 2007 and will continue to review its plan on a regular basis. Among the long list of areas considered are communications, security, health surveillance and the management of antivirals and vaccines. OPG now has enough antiviral medication on hand for all staff.
The company looked at what would happen if there was 20-, 30- and 40-per cent absenteeism as a result of an outbreak. Even at the high risk rate of 40 per cent, the plants could continue to produce electricity, OPG says.
However, it would depend how the illness was distributed within the company. If, for example, 50 per cent of the nuclear operators were unable to work, it would force a shutdown.
OPG considered what routine activities could be delayed when the risk was lower and putting training staff back on the front lines. Another option is moving staff between the Pickering and Darlington plants if they were qualified to work at both. The Darlington plant has a greater electricity output and would be a bigger priority.
The biggest risk, said Mr. Coles, is the supply chain from the outside. OPG has identified its dependencies on critical suppliers and has been working with them to create pandemic plans or review existing ones. In 2006, only a small fraction had a plan but that rate has been rising.
"We can also say it's a condition of you doing business with us that you have a pandemic plan in place," Mr. Coles said.
A member of the council asked how certain Mr. Coles was that there would be a need for the plans in the next 10 or 20 years.
"I would suggest to you, in my opinion, it's a certainty," responded Mr. Coles, adding that pandemics crop up about three times every 100 years. "As I recall, 1968 was the last one we had."