“Nuclear” is not a scary word. In fact, nuclear power from plants like Comanche Peak near Glen Rose supply more than 15 percent of the electricity used in the United States. A nuclear or radiological emergency would most likely be the result of an accident. But it’s possible that a hostile country could use a nuclear weapon or a “dirty bomb” could be used by terrorists.
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.
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.
Preparing for a Nuclear / Radiological Emergency
- If you live near a nuclear plant, like Comanche Peak, pay attention to the Outdoor Warning System sirens that may be used to alert you of a problem.
- In case of a nuclear spill or attack, determine how you can minimize your exposure to radioactive material.
- Time: Radioactive materials become less radioactive over time. Minimizing the length of your exposure will minimize your risk.
- Distance: Put as much distance between yourself and the source of the radiation as possible.
- Shielding: Put as much thick material between yourself and the radiation as possible. Try to stay indoors, if at all possible.