What is Radiation?
Everything around you is made up of small particles called atoms. The atoms in some matter are “radioactive” and can split to form new matter. When this happens, it gives off energy called “radiation.” This energy can be used to make electricity, to treat cancer, and in other helpful ways.
You live with radiation all the time, and take some into your body every day. But sometimes you must be careful how much of this radiation enters your body. If the amount of radiation in the air is large, you must protect yourself from it. Your house or some other building can often be a good shelter if there is too much radiation in the air.
The amount of radiation you take into your body is measured in “millirems.” Here are some examples of what you receive in one year, and where it comes from.
• The earth and space – about 80 millirems
• Your food — about 24 millirems
Most persons living in the St. Charles or St. John the Baptist Parishes get about 100 millirems per year in these natural ways. You may also get radiation in other ways.
• 2 or 3 chest x-rays — about 40 millirems
• The material in your house — about 34 millirems
• A coast-to-coast airline flight — about 2 millirems
• A color TV set — about 1 millirem
Living next to a plant like Waterford 3 will add less than one millirem per year.
How Does the Waterford 3 Nuclear Unit Work?
Here is how Waterford 3 works. Uranium atoms in the “reactor core” split to produce heat. This heat makes water hot enough to produce steam. This steam is then used to make electricity in the same way electricity is made in a plant that burns coal or oil.
When the atoms in the core split, radioactive matter is formed. The plant blocks its release in several ways.
1. Metal fuel rods seal the uranium and most of the radioactive matter inside the core.
2. A container with a steel wall 8 1/2 inches thick surrounds the core and seals it in.
3. A second container with a steel wall two inches thick is around the first one.
4. A concrete wall three feet thick seals in all of the other parts.
If there is an accident, Waterford 3 can block the release of all or most of the radiation. But in a severe accident, some radioactive matter may be released. If it is, this matter will be carried in the air. If that happens, an emergency will be declared. You may then be asked to do certain things to protect yourself until the wind carries the radioactive matter away.
There are four kinds of emergencies at nuclear power plants.
1. Unusual Event. A minor problem has taken place. No release of radioactive matter is expected. Federal, State and Parish officials will be told of this. You will not have to do anything.
2. Alert. This is also a minor problem. Small amounts of radioactive matter could be released at the plant. Federal, State and Parish officials will be told of this and will be asked to stand by. It is not likely that you will have to do anything.
3. Site Area Emergency. This is a more serious problem. Small amounts of radioactive matter could be released into the area outside of the plant. Federal, State and Parish officials will prepare to help you if you need to take special action. If such action is needed, the sirens will be turned on. You should then listen to local radio or TV stations for advice.
4. General Emergency. This is the most severe kind of emergency. Radioactive matter could be released outside the plant. Federal, State and Parish officials will work closely with experts at the plant. You may have to protect yourself. If action is needed, the sirens will be turned on. You should then listen to local radio or TV stations for advice.
Remember that a nuclear plant is not like a bomb. It CANNOT explode. You will have time to do what is needed if you have to protect yourself. Please read the rest of the information on this website. It will tell you how to prepare for an emergency.