Nuclear Power Plant
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
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.
Although the risk of a chemical accident is slight, knowing
how to handle these products and how to react during an
emergency can reduce the risk of injury.
Know Your Nuclear Power Plant
Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify a
nuclear power plant emergency:
- Notification 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.
- Site Area
Emergency - Area sirens may be sounded.
Listen to your radio or television for safety
Emergency - 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 promptly.
Before a Nuclear Power Plant
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.
Minimizing Exposure to Radiation
- Distance - The more distance between you and the source
of the radiation, the better. This could be evacuation or
remaining indoors to minimize exposure.
- Shielding - The more heavy, dense material between you
and the source of the radiation, the better
- Time - Most radioactivity loses its strength fairly
During a Nuclear Power Plant
The following are guidelines for what you should do if a
nuclear power plant emergency occurs. 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 evacuate:
- Keep car windows and vents closed; use re-circulating
If you are advised to remain indoors:
- Turn off the air conditioner, ventilation fans,
furnace, and other air intakes.
- Go to a basement or other underground area, if
- Do not use the telephone unless absolutely
If you expect you have been exposed to nuclear
- Change clothes and shoes.
- Put exposed clothing in a plastic bag.
- Seal the bag and place it out of the way.
- Take a thorough shower.
Keep food in covered containers or in the refrigerator. Food
not previously covered should be washed before being put in to
Much of the info on this page was taken from FEMA's web site
which can be referenced at: