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Franklin Co. gets radiation scanner from TMI operator

July 25, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The operator of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant has donated a radiological detection system to Franklin County, according to Emergency Services Director Jerry Flasher.

"It's somewhat similar to a metal detector," Gary Himes, the county's hazardous materials coordinator, said of the portal monitor. People can walk through the unit to determine whether they have been exposed to radiation, or it can be expanded to accommodate cars and most vans and sport utility vehicles, Himes said.

The $8,000 piece of equipment was donated to the county by EXCELON Corp., which runs the nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pa., according to Flasher.

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The plant was the scene of the nation's worst nuclear accident in 1979. Since the accident, Franklin County has been among the counties that participate in TMI drills every other year, according to Himes.

The most recent was conducted in April and the next will be held in 2005, he said.

Franklin County is a designated support county in the event of another release of radioactive material at Three Mile Island, according to Himes. Residents of the Highspire and Steelton areas in southcentral Pennsylvania would be directed to go to the Scotland (Pa.) School for Veterans Children in the event of an accident, he said.

Himes said the county had purchased a similar detector two years ago and had planned to buy another until EXCELON donated the machine. Himes said the nuclear plant operators had previously pledged to donate detection machines to the counties surrounding the power plant.

The detectors allow people to be screened for radiation contamination in a few seconds, a process that could take several minutes with handheld detectors, according to Himes.

Contaminated individuals can either be washed down by a decontamination unit, or evacuated to hospitals equipped to handle radiation cases, Himes said. The nearest hospitals are in Gettysburg, Pa. and Carlisle, Pa., he said.

The machines can also be used in other accidents or terrorist incidents involving nuclear material, such as a wreck involving a truck or train carrying nuclear materials, he said.

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