Nuclear Power and Public Safety
Emergency Planning for the Palisades Area
Special plans have already been developed to protect the public in the event of a nuclear incident in your area. These plans give specific attention to people who – like you – live, work or visit within 10 miles of a nuclear power plant. Procedures are in place to help protect you and other members of the public in the unlikely event of a nuclear emergency. If necessary, area officials would declare an emergency and take measures to ensure public safety.
This site addresses procedures for the Palisades area. Please read this material for future reference. Although it specifically addresses a potential nuclear incident, much of the information is useful in any major emergency.
One of the four classifications below would be used to describe a nuclear plant emergency. Entergy Palisades would contact federal, state and local authorities in each of the following situations:
Unusual Event: Notification of an Unusual Event is the least serious of the four warning levels. It means there is a problem at the plant that is being handled by plant workers and does not affect the public. Because of strict federal regulations, some kinds of problems are reported to the NRC and to state and local officials as unusual events even though they pose no danger to the public. The sirens would not be sounded.
Alert: An Alert is an event that could affect plant safety. Although there is still no danger to the public, county and state officials would begin getting emergency operations centers ready in case the situation gets worse. The sirens would not be sounded.
Site Area Emergency: A Site Area Emergency is an event that could possibly affect the public. The sirens may be sounded to alert the public to listen to the emergency broadcast stations for information and instructions.
General Emergency: A General Emergency is the most serious of the four classifications. In this situation, state and local authorities would take action to protect the public. The sirens would be sounded. Emergency broadcast stations would give information and instructions. If necessary, some areas could be evacuated.
Facts About Radiation
Radiation is energy in motion. The form of radiation we are concerned with is “ionizing radiation.” This type of radiation is released from radioactive material. It can have enough energy to penetrate living tissue and cause physical and chemical changes within. Radioactive material is all around us. It is in the air we breathe, in the food we eat, and in our homes. It is even in our bodies. Exposure to radiation from these sources of radioactive material is lumped together and called background radiation.
Ionizing radiation also comes from man-made sources. These include medical treatments, X-rays, TV sets and nuclear power plants.
Radiation is measured in units called millirems. The average person receives about 620 millirems of radiation a year from background and medical exposure. Each year we get more radiation from natural sources than we get from nuclear plants. Nuclear power adds very little to how much radiation we get.
How Radiation Could Harm You Depends On:
• The length of time you are exposed.
• How far you are from the radioactive source.
• The amount of your body exposed and which part.
• The amount of radioactive material you breathe or take into your body.
The less radiation you are exposed to, the less chance you have of suffering any harmful effects.
If radiation is absorbed by living tissue, it can damage cells. If the damage is slight, or takes place slowly, the body can usually make repairs. But if the damage is great, enough repairs may not be possible and the health effects could be severe.
State Of Michigan Potassium Iodide Distribution
Radioactive iodine (radioiodine) is one of the products that could be released in a serious nuclear power plant accident. Potassium iodide (KI) is a non-radioactive form of iodine that may be taken to reduce the amount of radioactive iodine absorbed by the body’s thyroid gland. KI offers protection only to the thyroid gland, and its use would be to supplement evacuation and in-place sheltering.
Evacuation and in-place sheltering are the primary means of protection in a radiological emergency. State and county officials will use the Emergency Alert System (EAS) to notify the public of the need to evacuate, to shelter, or to take KI. KI is available to people within 10 miles of Palisades through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). Distribution of KI is pre-event and a voucher from MDHHS is needed to obtain this. Detailed instructions on the distribution of KI can be found on their website at www.michigan.gov/KI and as well as here.
KI should not be used by people who are allergic to iodine. In the event of an allergic reaction, seek immediate medical attention.
NOTICE TO FARMERS, FOOD PROCESSORS, DISTRIBUTORS
Protecting The Food Supply During A Radiological Emergency
This portion outlines plans to protect the food supply in the event of an emergency. Information in this section includes the following:
* How you will be notified in an emergency
* Actions which may be necessary to protect the food supply
* Who to contact for more information
The public could be exposed to radioactive material in several ways following an accident. At first, particles and gases released into the air could be ingested or inhaled directly. Additional exposure could result from the consumption of food or milk contaminated by traces of the material. Farmers, food processors and distributors will be required to take steps to address the matter of food supply contamination. Proper actions will ensure that contamination is minimized or avoided.
If you are alerted to a radiological emergency by warning sirens or some other means, tune your radio to a local station for immediate and continuous emergency information. Click here for stations. You may also contact your Cooperative Extension Service agent or the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development for specific information. Locations and telephone numbers of local Cooperative Extension Service offices are here.
Do not destroy any animals, crops, milk, or feed supplies unless directed to do so. The environmental damage caused by an accident may be short-lived. Steps can generally be taken to make a full recovery possible.
Who Pays For Lost Or Destroyed Farm Products?
Farmers, food processors and distributors could face serious financial losses following a radiological emergency. However, federal law ensures that such losses will be reimbursed. The Price-Anderson Act, enacted by Congress in 1957, requires that the operators of nuclear power plants and certain other nuclear facilities purchase nuclear liability insurance policies for the protection of the public. As a result, no-fault insurance pools are in place to pay claims promptly without lengthy court hearings. Claimants need only prove that the injury or property damage resulted from the radiological emergency. Commercial insurance policies exclude coverage for nuclear accidents because Price-Anderson’s provisions make such coverage unnecessary.
Contamination And Radiation
The term “contamination” is used in this portion of the site. It means, quite simply, radioactive material where it is not supposed to be. Food, water or air is considered to be contaminated if it contains more or different types of radioactive material than would normally be present. Our bodies, for example, contain very small amounts of the radioactive elements potassium 40, carbon 14 and tritium. However, we are not considered to be contaminated because these elements exist within us naturally. On the other hand, the presence of strontium 90 (a byproduct of nuclear weapons testing) in food, water or air may be indicative of contamination.
“Radiation” refers to the particles and waves given off by radioactive material. The radiation given off by contaminants could be considered harmful if the levels are high enough and the exposure lasts long enough.
How Contamination Can Occur
Dust-sized radioactive particles released into the air during an accident could fall on fruits, vegetables or grains which could enter the food supply and be eaten by the public. For example, dairy cows and goats could eat grasses covered with radioactive iodine 131. Traces of the iodine could be passed through to the milk and then to consumers. Iodine 131 has the potential to concentrate in the human thyroid gland where it could cause thyroid cancer.
Public Warning Process
The state of Michigan is responsible for evaluating the severity of a nuclear emergency and ordering actions to protect the public and the food supply. If you live within 10 miles of the Entergy Palisades Plant, your first warning may be the sounding of local emergency sirens. If you hear a siren, turn your radio or TV on and tune it to a local station for immediate information transmitted through the Emergency Alert System (EAS). Click here for stations. If you live farther away, your first notification could come from the news media, EAS broadcasts or Cooperative Extension Service official. You may contact the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development directly if you have questions about a real or potential emergency.
Data Collection Helps Determine Protective Actions
Following an accidental release of radioactive material, emergency workers from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development will collect air, water and soil samples to determine the existence, amount and location of any contamination. Samples of milk, forage, crops and processed foods may also be obtained. Field data and other factors will be used by the state to determine the best course of action to protect the public and the food supply.
Because naturally occurring radioactive materials can always be found in the environment, Entergy Palisades and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality conduct a continuous program of sample air, water, milk, vegetation and animal life near the Entergy Palisades Plant. In this way, they are able to establish a baseline for comparison in the event of an emergency.
The area designated for post-accident environmental sampling could extend as far as 50 miles from the plant site. Specific instructions regarding the collection and testing process will be made available to farmers, food processors and distributors in the affected area by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Sheltering In An Emergency
If you are told to take shelter because of an emergency at a nuclear power plant, limit your outdoor activities as much as possible. Refer to Evacuation Basics for specific actions you and your family should take for personal protection. Steps to protect the food supply are different and are outlined further below.
What To Do If An Evacuation Is Ordered
If you live within ten miles of the Palisades Power Plant, you could be evacuated from the area in an emergency. If you must leave your animals, be sure to leave enough water and feed to sustain them until they can be cared for again. You may be permitted, at the direction of the state, to reenter the evacuated area temporarily to tend to the needs of your farm. You will receive specific instructions on routes to use, safety precautions and decontamination procedures. Your Cooperative Extension Service agent will be able to provide animal health and feeding guidance.
Protection Of Livestock/Dairy Animals
It is essential that priority be given to protecting dairy animals because radioactive materials can quickly enter the food chain through milk and other dairy products. If sheltering is required, shelter these animals first.
Shelter livestock in covered barns or sheds unless extremely hot weather or other factors make this impossible. Provide your animals stored feed such as hay, silage and bagged grain. Whenever possible, animals should be provided water drawn from wells. Open sources such as ponds, creeks or rivers should be avoided if possible. These protective measures will minimize the amount of radioactive material available to the animals. Since evacuation of farm animals will not normally be possible after a nuclear accident, sheltering and the use of stored feed and well water are the most effective means of limiting contamination.
Poultry are more resistant to radioactive contamination than other farm animals. Since most are raised in confined facilities and receive stored feed and well water, they can be sheltered in their existing structures. If your poultry animals are normally kept outdoors, they should be brought inside if possible. Eggshells provide natural protection from contamination. Generally, eggs will be safe to eat after the shells are washed to remove surface contaminants.
If animals have been exposed to radioactive particles carried by winds or rain from the accident site, they should be washed with uncontaminated water before being brought into a shelter.
Save Your Animals
Do not destroy any animals unless directed to do so by state or federal authorities. Do not slaughter any animals except for immediate food needs. Generally, animals that are exposed to radioactive contaminants and rainwater will survive and may be marketable and safe for human consumption. Do not allow animals to graze in open fields unless so directed by the state of Michigan, your Cooperative Extension Service agent or other governmental official.
Only in extreme emergencies may contaminated grain or hay be used for feed. If you must use feed which has been identified as contaminated, you may be able to reduce the level of contamination. For example, if the feed was stored outside, the contamination may be greatest at or near the surface of the feed pile. Removal of the top portion may greatly reduce the amount of contamination present.
Do not dispose of contaminated feed or hay because it may be salvageable over time. You should, however, keep it separated from noncontaminated feed supplies and animals so that the contamination is not spread. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service agent for guidance.
Contaminated Milk And Other Farm Products
If particles of radioactive material are present in large amounts, you may be advised not to use, consume or sell garden produce or animal products until the environment and food products are sampled and assessed by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development. The presence of contamination may not mean that all of your crops will be lost. Iodine 131, an element produced in nuclear plants that could be released accidentally, loses half of its radioactivity in eight days. Milk contaminated at low levels by iodine 131 may be converted to powdered milk or cheese and then stored while the iodine’s radioactivity diminishes. It may also be usable as animal feed.
Do not destroy food or feed unless spoilage has made it inedible. Generally, contaminated products may be salvageable after adequate time passes and they are properly processed. Your Cooperative Extension Service agent can provide specific information.
Store as much water as possible for livestock. Cover open wells, tanks and other storage containers to prevent or limit contamination. Close off the intakes from contaminated water sources (ponds, streams or cisterns) to prevent circulation of contaminated water. Generally, water from wells and water heaters should be safe to use.
Unless soils are highly permeable, contaminants deposited on the ground will normally travel very slowly into the aquifer. Contaminants may fall directly onto the surfaces of lakes or rivers where they can infiltrate groundwater supplies. Streams and lake currents can transport contaminants many miles in a few hours.
Fish And Marine Life
Fish and other marine life raised in ponds, or taken from rivers, streams or lakes may continue to be harvested unless the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development, and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality have determined through laboratory analysis of samples that they are contaminated.
Crops In The Field
Standing crops should generally be allowed to grow to maturity. The level of radiation exposure to plants that is likely to occur will not affect their growth. Most contaminants will be washed off or will diminish in strength naturally to safe levels during the growing process. If special harvesting procedures are necessary, your Cooperative Extension Service agent will advise you.
Pasture and forage plants usually retain very little radioactive material deposited on them. The extent to which they collect and retain contaminants depends on the amount and type of contaminants involved, foliage characteristics and the amount of rain and wind occurring after the accident.
Fruits And Vegetables In The Field
Unprotected plants may have particles of contaminants on their surfaces. Leaves, pods and fruits should be washed, brushed, scrubbed or peeled before eating. Some leafy vegetables may be eaten after removal of the outer layers and a thorough washing.
Ripe fruit and vegetables may be lost through spoilage if high levels of contamination prevent the entry of field workers to harvest them. Those that do not need to be harvested immediately can be salvaged later when the area has been determined to be safe for harvesting.
Honey And Apiary Products
Honey and bee hives may be sources of contamination if radioactive contamination is detected in the area. Honey and bee hives will be sampled and analyzed by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development if contamination is apparent. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service agent for guidance.
Roots And Tubers
Potatoes, carrots and similar plants can generally be eaten after they are thoroughly washed and peeled to remove soil particles and contaminants.
Other Plants Or Wildlife
Wild plants, such as native herbs, mushrooms, dandelion greens, spearmint, peppermint or wintergreen may have particles of contamination on their surfaces. They should be washed, brushed, scrubbed or peeled before eating.
Wild game, such as deer, rabbit, squirrel, pheasant or partridge, may have ingested contaminants through their normal browse. You may be advised by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Department of Environmental Quality, and the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development not to consume wild game until it has been sampled and assessed as safe.
Weather And Time Play A Part
All radioactive materials lose their radioactivity over time. Inert gases released from commercial nuclear plants lose their radioactivity in a matter of minutes, for example. Wind or heavy rain tend to remove radioactive material rapidly from plant surfaces. In some cases, however, hard rain falling on contaminated soil could splash the soil onto plant surfaces, thus increasing the amount of radioactive material on low-standing plants.
Several steps may be taken to restore soils contaminated in an accident. Nonuse for a period of time may be required. In a worst-case situation, heavily contaminated soil may require removal and disposal elsewhere. Such a drastic action may not be feasible for large fields but may be appropriate for small plots or areas such as walkways near buildings where frequent human contact is likely. In less severe situations, fiber crops may be planted instead of fruits and vegetables. Deep plowing may be employed to keep radioactive contaminants below the root zone while the radioactivity decays over time. Liming may be used to limit the absorption of specific radioactive elements by crops. The Natural Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture will provide farmers with guidance as to the best means of restoring valuable soils to productive use.
Food Processors And Distributors
Following a radiological emergency, governmental officials may restrict the movement of food products and withhold them from the marketplace if they are found to be contaminated. These products should not be released until they are considered to be safe for consumption, or until a decision has been made to dispose of them. You will be instructed how to safely handle and dispose of contaminated food products by the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development.
Click here for a list of Cooperative Extension Service Agents.