Emergency crews test radioactive accident protocol

Windsor Regional Hospital was one of several emergency services in the region participating in emergency-preparedness drills Tuesday. Officials simulated an event where radioactive material was released into the community.

Amherstburg tested its preparedness protocol in case of an incident at the Fermi nuclear plant in Michigan

Windsor Regional Hospital was one of several groups participating in emergency-preparedness drills Tuesday. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

Emergency response officials throughout Windsor and Essex County tested their strategies for dealing with a nuclear disaster Tuesday.

Communities and organizations have to prepare for any type of incident, including those from the closest nuclear reactor in Newport, Mich.

The most likely scenario, though, comes from radioactive material being transported through the region by truck, say officials.

Windsor Regional Hospital rolled out its emergency-preparedness drills, simulating an event where radioactive material was released into the community.

"The risk of any incident with a radioactive contamination would be low, but there is radioactive material transferred through our community and within our community at all times," said Dr. Paul O'Donoghue  a nuclear medical physician.

Likely scenario

Having a power plant across the Detroit River in Newport poses a risk, explained O'Donoghue, but the chances of a reactor meltdown are very low. The most likely scenario would involve a traffic incident with a truck carrying radioactive material, he said.

"If you're driving on the E.C Row Expressway, all the time you'll see trucks with a little yellow placard that'll tell you there's radioactive material on board," O'Donoghue said. "That's a much more likely risk we'd deal with."

In the case of an emergency, patients at the hospital contaminated with radioactive material would be decontaminated with water and a mild detergent before being taken into the hospital for treatment, he said.

Amherstburg preparedness

The hospital's simulation coincided with similar drills happening in Amherstburg, which is farther south of Windsor and closer to the Enrico Fermi Nuclear Generating Station across Lake Erie in Michigan.

Amherstburg has done these types of drills before, but it's been at least five years since the last one, Windsor Fire Chief Bruce Montone said.

He said the nuclear facility's location in Michigan presents some unique challenges for Amherstburg. These most recent drills gave officials a chance to update their plans for an emergency.

"The nuclear facility isn't even in Canada, so a lot of the supports that are in place throughout Canada don't exist here in Amherstburg," he said. "As a small municipality, they've taken a great step to update their preparedness."

The City of Windsor did its own emergency planning last week. Municipal staff worked out what they would do, should they ever face a total system failure of its information technology.