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Darlington plant undergoing drills that don't involve public

The operator of the Darlington nuclear power station is conducting large-scale emergency exercises this week for the first time in 15 years, but the drills don’t involve the public.

Ontario Power Generation, which also operates the Pickering nuclear power station, said the three-day mock emergency drills that began Monday are to test emergency response plans and demonstrate how the participating agencies and government work together.

The exercises, which involve 54 agencies, simulate an incident at Darlington Nuclear Generation Station, which has four reactors.

Many of the tests are happening on the grounds of the Pickering and Darlington stations and are strictly off limits to the public. Alarm sirens were heard Tuesday morning at Darlington which was about the only way the public knew something was happening.

A recent report suggested 60 per cent of people living in the vicinity of the power plants don’t know what to do in case of a nuclear emergency. Ontario Power Generation said it does the best it can to keep the public informed, including the pamphlets distributed this month to 200,000 households.

Greenpeace criticized the drills as being a PR exercise.

“We’re worried this is being used more as a promotional exercise than actually an exercise that will ensure that the public will be protected in the event of a real accident,” said Greenpeace’s nuclear analyst Shawn-Patrick Stensil.

He said the GTA should be worried because the area doesn’t have a plan for how to deal with a major nuclear accident.

“Given that we have 10 reactors in the GTA that’s a big issue that I don’t think these nuclear games or exercises will address,” he said.

“We only have detailed emergency plans for about 10 kilometres around each of the stations,” he said.

Stensil said he has visited Fukushima and Chernobyl, two of the largest nuclear accidents in recent history, and it really opened his eyes to see how large and far afield radiation can spread in the event of an accident.

“So our current plants aren’t sufficient and we should be doing stuff to address those instead of playing games.”