NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS
Nuclear power plants use the heat generated from nuclear fission in a contained environment to convert water to steam, which powers generators to produce electricity. Nuclear power plants operate in most states in the country and produce about 20 percent of the nation’s power. Nearly 3 million Americans live within 10 miles of an operating nuclear power plant.
Although the construction and operation of these facilities are closely monitored and regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), accidents are possible. An accident could result in dangerous levels of radiation that could affect the health and safety of the public living near the nuclear power plant.
Local and state governments, federal agencies, and the electric utilities have emergency response plans in the event of a nuclear power plant incident. The plans define two “emergency planning zones.” One zone covers an area within a 10-mile radius of the plant, where it is possible that people could be harmed by direct radiation exposure. The second zone covers a broader area, usually up to a 50-mile radius from the plant, where radioactive materials could contaminate water supplies, food crops and livestock.
The potential danger from an accident at a nuclear power plant is exposure to radiation. This exposure could come from the release of radioactive material from the plant into the environment, usually characterized by a plume (cloud-like formation) of radioactive gases and particles. The major hazards to people in the vicinity of the plume are radiation exposure to the body from the cloud and particles deposited on the ground, inhalation of radioactive materials and ingestion of radioactive materials.
Radioactive materials are composed of atoms that are unstable. An unstable atom gives off its excess energy until it becomes stable. The energy emitted is radiation. Each of us is exposed to radiation daily from natural sources, including the Sun and the Earth. Small traces of radiation are present in food and water. Radiation also is released from man-made sources such as X-ray machines, television sets and microwave ovens. Radiation has a cumulative effect. The longer a person is exposed to radiation, the greater the effect. A high exposure to radiation can cause serious illness or death.
Before a Nuclear Power Plant Emergency
The following are things you can do to protect yourself, your family and your property from the effects of a nuclear power plant emergency:
Build an Emergency Supply Kit, which includes items like non-perishable food, water, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, extra flashlights and batteries. You should add plastic sheeting, duct tape and scissors to the kit in order be better prepared for a nuclear power plant incident. You may want to prepare a portable kit and keep it in your car in case you are told to evacuate. This kit should include:
- Copies of prescription medications and medical supplies.
- Bedding and clothing, including sleeping bags and pillows.
- Copies of important documents: driver’s license, Social Security card, proof of residence, insurance policies, wills, deeds, birth and marriage certificates, tax records, etc.
Make a Family Emergency Plan. Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so it is important to know how you will contact one another, how you will get back together and what you will do in case of an emergency.
- Plan places where your family will meet, both within and outside of your immediate neighborhood.
- It may be easier to make a long-distance phone call than to call across town, so an out-of-town contact may be in a better position to communicate among separated family members.
- You may also want to inquire about emergency plans at places where your family spends time: work, daycare and school. If no plans exist, consider volunteering to help create one.
- Knowing your community's warning systems and disaster plans, including evacuation routes.
- Notify caregivers and babysitters about your plan.
- Make plans for your pets
Obtain public emergency information materials from the power company that operates your local nuclear power plant or your local emergency services office. If you live within 10 miles of the power plant, you should receive the materials yearly from the power company or your state or local government.