Emergency Preparedness Essentials


Nuclear Power Plant Emergency

Energy is created at nuclear power plants by using nuclear fission technology in a safe environment to create steam that powers electric generators. 20 percent of all power created in the United States is generated at nuclear power plants. About 1 percent of the American population lives 10 miles or less from a nuclear power plant.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) heavily regulates and monitors nuclear power generation, but accidents have occurred in the past and no plant is immune from danger. Radiation can be emitted during an accident, which can result in contamination of water and food supplies.

Electric utility companies, local public safety agencies, and the NRC all have detailed emergency response plans. These plans outline response procedures for 2 separate emergency planning zones. The first zone is within a 10 mile area where harm from direct exposure to radiation occurs. The second zone is within 50 miles from the incident, a region exposed to radiation resulting in water and food supply contamination.

Radiation exposure is the main threat to human and environmental health following a nuclear power plant accident. Radiation is usually released in the form of particles and gas from a cloud known as a plume. People directly in the plumeís path are exposed to radiation through ingestion and inhalation. Radiation leaches to trees, the ground, and water.

Unstable atoms make up radioactive compounds. These atoms emit energy in the form of radiation before stabilizing. Radiation occurs naturally in the environment, so all people are exposed to it daily. Food and water typically contain small doses of radiation. Medical and other technology, such as microwaves, TVs, and X-ray devices emit radiation. The effects of radiation exposure increase over time. Therefore, people often exposed to radiation over an extended period of time can become severely ill.

How to Prepare for a Nuclear Power Plant Emergency

Protect your health and the environment by following these tips during a nuclear power plant incident:
  • Put together an emergency preparedness kit with potable water, non-perishable food, medical supplies, flashlights, extra clothing, and other essential items. Make sure the kit contains scissors (to remove contaminated clothing), duct tape, and plastic sheets. Itís recommended to build a kit to be placed in your automobile. Place the following items in the kit:
    • First aid supplies and information about prescription medications.
    • Pillows, sleeping bags, extra clothes, and bed sheets and blankets.
    • Copies of tax records, birth certificates, deeds, wills, insurance policies, and other legal documents.
  • Develop and practice an emergency and evacuation plan for your family. Family members are often separated during emergencies, so itís essential to coordinate how contact will be made, how everyone will reunite, and what steps everyone will take to minimize radiation exposure.
    • Identify accessible meeting areas within and near your homeís immediate vicinity.
    • Since local phones lines can be jammed during an emergency, have a friend or family member living out-of-state serve as an emergency contact. This person will be responsible for contacting other family members within the disaster zone.
    • Learn about emergency preparedness and evacuation plans at work and your childrenís daycares and schools. Volunteer to develop a plan if one does not exist.
    • Learn about local community evacuation and emergency preparedness plans and emergency notification systems.
    • Inform teachers and child caregivers about your familyís evacuation and emergency preparedness plans.
    • Develop pet evacuation plans.
  • Obtain the local power companyís emergency plans and procedures, and contact the local state or community public safety agency for other important details. Those living within 10 miles of a nuclear power plant should obtain disaster preparation plans annually.

What to Do During a Nuclear Power Plant Emergency

Local public safety agencies activate notification systems and warning sirens after unsafe levels of radiation are emitted following a nuclear power plant accident. Residents will also receive important updates and evacuation procedures from local Emergency Alert System (EAS) radio and television broadcasts.
  • Strictly adhere to all EAS broadcast instructions.
  • Minimize radiation exposure by moving away from the source, whether by evacuating the city or remaining indoors until itís safe to leave.
  • Shut automobile vents and windows while evacuating. If possible, avoid exposure to outside air by utilizing re-circulated air.
  • Shut off the furnace, fans, and the air conditioner when indoors during a nuclear power plant disaster.
  • Reduce radiation exposure by creating a barrier with dense and heavy objects. Relocate to a basement as soon as possible.
  • Only use the phone during life or death medical emergencies.
  • Remain a safe distance from the disaster area since radiation potency diminishes quickly following its release.

What to Do After a Nuclear Power Plant Emergency

Minimize risk after a nuclear power plant disaster by following these tips:
  • Relocate to a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) designed shelter when itís not safe to be at home. Text SHELTER + and the local ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) for details about your local designated shelter.
  • Seek medical attention immediately if youíve experienced radiation exposure.
  • Decontaminating from radiation exposure can be as simple as taking a shower. Strictly adhere to other decontamination orders issued by public safety officials.
  • Remove contaminated shoes and clothing and place them in a sealed bag.
  • If you become nauseated or experience other atypical systems, immediately seek medical attention.
  • Pay attention to local news broadcasts for information about emergency and evacuation procedures.
  • Assist elderly neighbors or those with special needs. Large families with small children may also require assistance.
  • Do not return to your house until public safety officials lift evacuation orders.
  • Leave food in the refrigerator and place non-perishable food within tightly sealed containers. Wash uncovered food before placing it into containers.
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