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Wabasha-Kellogg school will be site for radiation testing

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In case of an emergency at Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant north of Red Wing, some people will come to Wabasha-Kellogg school to be checked for radiation and, if found, decontaminated.
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WABASHA — If there's a major problem with the Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant, up to 3,500 people from that area might come to the Wabasha-Kellogg school to be checked for radiation and, if it's found on them, decontaminated.

The school has agreed to be the second radiological reception center for a larger accident at the plant north of Red Wing along the Mississippi River, said Brenda Wodele, county emergency management director.

By the end of the year, local firefighters, EMTs and volunteers are expected to be trained on crowd control, how to register evacuees, check them for radiation and if it's found, decontaminate them in the school showers, she said.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services, which is in charge of such events, will provide about $70,000 for equipment and training, she said. Equipment can also be used for routine events such as fires, she said.

Glenn Olson, service safety administrator and radiological planner, said the money will come from Xcel Energy, which owns the plant.

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Prairie Island has been operating for about 30 years but had only one evacuation site in Cottage Grove, he said. The Wabasha-Kellogg school was added because each site is supposed to handle populations up to 30,000 people and the most recent census found 35,000 people within 10 miles of the plant, he said.

Also, it gives people living in Red Wing a safer, easier way to get checked, he said. If they have to go to Cottage Grove, they either have to drive within a few miles of the plant or make a much longer detour around it.

The Wabasha fire chief will be in charge of the scene, with the state helping out as needed, Olson said.

If evacuees are contaminated, they won't be a threat to people who work with them or those in the local area, Wodele said.

Once evacuees are checked, they either will go to the home of a friend or relative or be helped by the Red Cross. They won't stay at the school, Olson said.

Wodele said Lake City High School was considered as an evacuation site but rejected because it doesn't have enough parking. If there is an emergency, the assumption is school will be canceled so there will be room there, she said.

Local and state officials are expected to meet March 12 to begin planning for training and to decide what equipment is needed. The budget for a center at Princeton, which is near the Monticello nuclear plant, is about $70,000 a year, she said.

She doesn't believe setting up a center at the school between Wabasha and Kellogg should frighten anyone. In fact, she said, "you are always planning for bad things to happen and know the planning is there," she said. "It's almost peace of mind that we're trained."

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