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Palo Verde nuke plant opens new emergency center

BUCKEYE – In the event of an emergency at Arizona's Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, plant officials and government leaders will now have access to a $13.5 million center that will help them respond and share information with the public.

The 32,000-square-foot Energy Education Center, located about 20 miles east of the plant, also will allow operators to hold drills and plan emergency responses.

"The more we pre-plan, the better prepared we will be and the better we'll be able to communicate to the public in case of an emergency," Randall Edington, the plant's chief nuclear officer.

Arizona Public Service runs the plant on behalf of several power companies.

The center, which opens April 8, will house an Emergency Operations Facility currently located at the plant and a Joint Information Center currently located at the Papago Military Reservation in Phoenix.

"We wanted to combine the two facilities to really help us with facilitation and flow of information," said Monica Ray, the plant's director of emergency preparedness and security.

A room at the center can stream live images of Palo Verde. Another is set up to allow executives and local and national personnel to prepare a plan of action.

There's a 222-seat auditorium where plant officials and government leaders can brief the media and tell residents what they need to do.

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Edington noted that the center will open while Japan grapples with a nuclear emergency spawned by a devastating tsunami and the challenges of getting information to the public.

"You will see constant and almost immediate information updates, which we're not getting from Japan," he said.

Members of the Arizona Corporation Commission toured the facility Monday as they gear up for a public hearing Tuesday at which Palo Verde officials were to discuss procedures they would take in case of an emergency at the plant.

"This facility is really the key in educating the public as to what their course of action should be should God forbid something occurred at the Palo Verde plant," said Commissioner Bob Stump, who recently wrote a letter requesting that Palo Verde officials explain their emergency procedures.

"People want information and they want it quickly and of course it needs to be accurate," said Gary Pierce, chairman of the commission.

Commissioner Paul Newman said the center is essential to being ready for an emergency.

"There's always a chance of an accident occurring and to have a good communication center is very important in our modern new cycle where people are learning every second new developments," he said.

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Courtney Olish/Cronkite News Service

Twenty miles from the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, the new Energy Education Center will centralize information about the nuclear power plant.

Quick facts about Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station

  • Largest power producer of any kind in the U.S. since 1992.
  • About 4 million people in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas receive its power.
  • Capable of generating nearly 4,000 megawatts of electricity.
  • Ooperating since 1986.
  • Located about 50 miles west of Phoenix.
  • Arizona Public Service owns 29.1 percent of the plant.