The U.S. has over 100 commercial power plants and Canada has 18 power stations meaning millions of citizens live within 10 miles (16 km) of an operating reactor. And the World Nuclear Association reports there are 240 research reactors (54 in the U.S.) mainly on university campuses.
Even though governments and associations monitor and regulate construction and operation of plants, accidents are possible and do happen. An accident could result in dangerous levels of radiation that could affect the health and safety of the public living near a nuclear power plant, as well as people many miles away depending on winds and weather - so millions of North Americans could potentially be affected.
Some other incidents involving possible radiation exposure may be a nuclear missile or suitcase nuke (plutonium creates massive energy and destruction) or a “dirty bomb”.
How is radiation detected?
You cannot see, feel, taste or smell radiation, but special instruments can detect even the smallest levels of it. If radiation is released, authorities will monitor levels of radioactivity to determine the potential danger so they can alert and protect the public. (Consider getting dosimeters [pen units, SIRADs, RADstickers, etc], KFM kits or NukAlerts for your kits to detect radiation levels.)
What is best way to reduce radiation exposure?
Limit the amount of radiation you are exposed to by doing 3 things ...
Distance - The more distance between you and the source of radiation, the less you’ll receive. During a serious accident you may be told to evacuate.
Shielding - Heavy, dense materials between you and radiation is best – this is why you want to stay indoors since the walls in your home should be good enough to protect you in some cases… but listen to radio and TV to learn if you need to evacuate.
Time - Most radioactivity loses its strength rather quickly. Limiting your time near the source of radiation reduces the amount you receive.
What is the most dangerous part of a nuclear accident?
Radioactive iodine - nuclear reactors contain many different radioactive products, but a dangerous one is radioactive iodine, which once absorbed, can damage cells of the thyroid gland. The greatest population that suffers in a nuclear accident is children (including unborn babies) since their thyroid is so active, but all people are at risk of absorbing radioactive iodine.
How can I be protected from radioactive iodine?
Potassium iodide (KI) - can be purchased over-the-counter now and is known to be an effective thyroid-blocking agent. In other words, it fills up the thyroid with good iodine that keeps radioactive iodine from being absorbed into our bodies.
What if I am allergic to iodine?
According to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards, the FDA suggests that risks of allergic reaction to potassium iodide are minimal compared to subjecting yourself to cancer from radioactive iodine. Ask your doctor or pharmacist
what you should keep on hand in the event of an allergic reaction.
Many European countries stockpile potassium iodide (KI), especially since the Chernobyl incident. Several states are considering or already have stockpiles of KI ready in case of an accident or incident.
As of Jan 2005, the FDA has approved 3 KI products - Iosat, ThyroSafe, and ThyroShield. Learn more here (Note: this page explains how much KI one should take during incident.)
Community Planning for Emergencies
Local, state and provincial governments, Federal agencies and utilities have developed emergency response plans in the event of a nuclear power plant accident. United States’ plans define 2 “emergency planning zones” (EPZs)
• Plume Exposure EPZ - a 10-mile radius from nuclear plant where people may be harmed by radiation exposure NOTE: People within a 10-mile radius are given emergency information about radiation, evacuation routes, special arrangements for handicapped, etc. via brochures, phone books, and utility bills.
• Ingestion Exposure EPZ - about a 50-mile radius from plant where accidentally released radioactive materials could contaminate water supplies, food crops and livestock
BEFORE A NUCLEAR POWER PLANT EMERGENCY:
Learn the buzzwords - Know terms used to describe a nuclear emergency at a plant: U.S. / (Canada)...
Learn signals - Ask about your community’s warning system and pay attention to “test” dates to learn if you can HEAR it. Nuclear power plants are required to install sirens and other warning devices to cover a 10-mile area around the plant in the U.S. (If you live outside the 10-mile area you will probably learn of the event through local TV and radio, but just be aware winds and weather can impact areas as far as 200 miles [320 km] away!!)
Learn risks - Ask the company operating the plant for brochures and data.
Make a plan - Develop a Family Emergency Plan and Disaster Supplies Kit. Double check on emergency plans for schools, day cares or places family may be and where they’ll go if evacuated.
DURING A NUCLEAR POWER PLANT EMERGENCY:
Stay calm - Not all accidents release radiation - may be contained in plant.
Listen - Turn on radio or TV. Authorities will give specific instructions and information for each specific incident.
Stay or go..? - Evacuate if told to do so by local authorities ... and ...
As long as you are NOT told to evacuate, do the following…
IF INDOORS - Stay inside and prepare to “shelter-in-place”...
IF OUTDOORS - Get indoors as soon as possible!
IF IN A VEHICLE - Keep windows up, close vents, use “recirculating” air and keep listening to radio for updates. If possible, drive away from site.
Pets & livestock - Get them in shelters with clean food and water that has not been exposed to air-borne radiation, especially milk-producing animals.
Food - Put food in covered containers or in refrigerator -- any food that was not in a covered container should be washed first.
Take potassium iodide..? - IF radioactive iodine has been released into the air from a power plant accident, some states may decide to provide KI pills mentioned at beginning of this topic to people in a 10-mile radius.
NOTE: Take KI pills ONLY as directed by local public health authorities and follow instructions on the package exactly!
AFTER A NUCLEAR POWER PLANT EMERGENCY:
Listen - Keep radio and TV tuned in -- stay in until authorities say all clear.
Clean up - If you were possibly exposed to radiation...
Weird symptoms - Seek medical attention if you have symptoms like upset stomach or feel queasy after a reported incident since it could be related to radiation exposure.
Gardens & crops – Authorities will provide information concerning safety of farm and homegrown products -- or check with agricultural extension agent. Unharvested crops are hard to protect but crops that are already harvested should be stored inside, if possible.
Milk - Local officials should inspect cows’ and goats’ milk before using.
Extracted from IT'S A DISASTER! book (proceeds benefit USFRA)
More tips in USFRA's Nuclear Bomb (Nuke) Attack and Dirty Bomb discussions