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
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.
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.
- Distance - The more
distance between you and the source of
the radiation, the better. This could
be evacuation or remaining indoors to
- Shielding - The more heavy, dense
material between you and the source
of the radiation, the better.
- Time - Most radioactivity loses
its strength fairly quickly.
an accident at a nuclear power plant were
to release radiation in your area, local
authorities would activate warning sirens
or another approved alert method. They
also would instruct you through the Emergency
Alert System (EAS) on local television
and radio stations on how to protect yourself.
Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify a nuclear power plant
of Unusual Event -
A small problem has occurred at the plant. No radiation leak is expected.
No action on your part will be necessary.
- Alert -
A small problem has occurred, and small
amounts of radiation could leak inside
the plant. This will not affect you and no action is required.
Area Emergency -
Area sirens may be sounded. Listen
to your radio or television for safety
Radiation could leak outside the
plant and off the plant site. The
sirens will sound. Tune to your local
radio or television station for reports.
Be prepared to follow instructions
Before a Nuclear
Power Plant Emergency
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 these materials
yearly from the power company or your state
or local government.
During a Nuclear Power Plant Emergency
The following are guidelines for what you
should do if a nuclear power plant
Keep a battery-powered radio with you
at all times and listen to
the radio for specific instructions. Close
and lock doors and windows.
If you are told
to remain indoors:
- Keep car windows and vents closed;
use re-circulating air.
- Turn off the air conditioner, ventilation
fans, furnace, and other air intakes.
- Go to a basement or other underground
area, if possible.
- Do not use the telephone unless
If you expect you have been exposed to
- Change clothes and shoes.
- Put exposed clothing in a plastic
- Seal the bag and place it out of the
- Take a thorough shower.
Keep food in covered containers or in
the refrigerator. Food not previously
should be washed before being put in
After a Nuclear Power Plant Emergency
Seek medical treatment for any unusual
symptoms, such as nausea, that may be
related to radiation exposure.
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