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Central Ohio Hospitals Prepare For Radioactive Waste Transport

Hospital workers and other emergency response personnel along Interstate 70 in Ohio soon will receive training on what to do in the event of a radioactive spill. The preparation comes as Japan tries to control radiation seeping into the atmosphere. But nuclear power plants are not the reason for the training in Ohio. Sometime this summer, trucks will carry radioactive waste along I-70. The U.S. Department of Energy's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is shipping the radioactive materials from Grand Island, N.Y., to a plant in Carlsbad, N.M. As a precaution, the Department of Energy and the Ohio Department of Health are offering training sessions to hospitals located within 10 miles of I-70 on what to do in the event of a leak. They're also offering training to police officers, firefighters, EMTs and other law enforcement. William Mackie manages institutional affairs at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant Carlsbad Field Office in New Mexico. "It's training to familiarize them with radioactive material, and with the effects of radioactive material and how to deal with radioactivity should there be an escape during transportation," Mackie said. The Department of Energy offers the training each time a shipment is scheduled. ODH's senior health physicist Robert Leidy said 20 hospitals have been notified about the training. Up to 500 hospital workers will receive it. "A lot of hands-on training included in that. There's continuing education available to the doctors, nurses and radiological technologists that would take participate in that training. Many of the hospitals are very busy. Hospitals that already have radiation safety officers most likely have procedures for how to handle a contaminated patient and what to do in this kind of event," Leidy said. "But it's a good time to revisit those policies and be prepared in case something were to happen." The training varies from an eight-hour course to a 30-minute meeting. Six hospitals in Columbus will get training including Mount Carmel East and West, Grant Methodist Hospital, Doctor's Hospital, Children's Hospital and Ohio State University Medical Center East. OSU Medical Center safety director Mike Gregory said the east side hospital plans to receive the training sometime in April. And Gregory noted the medical center already has protocols to respond to these kinds of potential hazards. "If we were to receive or suspect or anyone or anything from occurring in the hospital or a patient presenting to the emergency room we can contact the radiation safety section within the university for assistance with the response and guidance on what to do if needed," Gregory said. While there's a lot of training that goes into preparing for a potential radioactive leak, there's a lot of preparation that goes into transporting the waste. Mackie said the casts that hold the materials go through a rigorous testing cycle before they're certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He said the stainless steel casts are dropped from 30 feet to try to break them. They're also dropped onto a large spike to see if they will break. "And then once those tests are completed and everything is satisfactory, then we put the cast up on a pedestal and burn it for 30 minutes at 1475 degrees, and then immediately, by computer, submerge the cast in water for a prolonged period of time in an attempt to crack it," Mackie said. Mackie said all the casts have passed muster. There has not been a leak since the New Mexico facility began accepting radioactive waste in 1999. The last time waste traveled through Ohio was more than three years ago. Officials are not releasing the specific dates and times of this summer's shipments because of security reasons.