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Real Situation Erupts During Browns Ferry Disaster Drill

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LIMESTONE COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) - Okay, we told you earlier this week TVA was going to conduct a disaster drill Wednesday, and they did. It involved about a thousand people including TVA employees, state employees, and rapid responders from every county around the facility. But during the drilll something actually happened at the plant.

WHNT News 19's Al Whitaker was at Browns Ferry today and files a report on what actually happened.

During the drill, an intake pump at Browns Ferry overheated and set off an alarm. TVA officials say they thought it was a fire at first. It turned out to be what one tva spokesperson describes as a false alarm.

The drill was moving along as planned. Several North Alabama counties had EMA representatives on-hand at Calhoun Community College, where the drill was based.

It was a practice drill, actually, in preparation for a real drill planned for next month. The Nuclear Regulatory Agency requires TVA to conduct these drills on a regular basis.

"We hope to look at today and see what we exactly we didn't do right, what we need to improve our efforts on. Whether our plans need to be changed or updated, we're looking to see what mistakes we may have made," says Yasamie August, an Alabama EMA spokesperson and participant in Wednesday's exercise.

But the drill was canceled when something real began to unfold at the plant. A fire alarm went off indicating something was burning.

"There were reports of what we thought might be a fire in reality at Browns Ferry. So there was some confusion about whether or not that was a real event or if it was part of the scenario for our drill today," says TVA spokesperson Mike Bradley. So the drill was abruptly canceled.

Turns out it was a real event, but Bradley says it was minor enough to be described as a non-event. He says packing around an intake motor overheated and began to smoke, setting off the alarm.

But after hearing something was actually going on inside the plant, I drove to the guard shack at Browns Ferry to ask that one of the media representatives come out and make a statement. The guard shack was empty and the gate was open allowing traffic to move freely through, so I drove in and flagged down a contractor and waited there until security showed up. While speaking with the contractor, several security officers rushed up in vehicles with flashing lights and escorted me off the property.

While driving in, I passed what turned out to be a security officer in her personal vehicle. She later told me she phoned the security office when I passed her, and that the guard at the gate had been summoned inside the plant, leaving the gate unattended.

During Bradley's on-camera interview late Wednesday afternoon as he was leaving Calhoun Community College, he said he was not aware I had driven through the gate. After making a telephone call, Bradley told me that gate is manned 99% of the time, and that I had not breached the "protected area" of the plant.


--Al Whitaker