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.

Radiation Emergencies

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.

Protective Action

Protective Action Guidelines (PAGs) are guides used in planning for protective actions to safeguard public health. The actions are taken to limit the radiation dose from ingestion by avoiding or reducing the contamination in or on human food and animal feeds following the release of radionuclides. In order to ensure public safety, Derived Intervention Levels (DILs) have been recommended by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to protect food, milk, and water from radioactive contamination. Each DIL is a set point where protective measures should be considered. For example, if levels of radioactive cesium in milk approach the preventive “response level,” surveillance and protective actions for dairy animals may be recommended (e.g., placing dairy animals on uncontaminated feed and water).

Emergency Protective Actions

The following are examples of protective actions that may be recommended if a release of radioactive materials occurs and contamination of agricultural products is verified or suspected.

• When you go outside, wear clothing that covers all portions of the body. Remove outer clothing before going indoors.
• Wash hands thoroughly before preparing or consuming food.
• Do not engage in any dust producing activities such as cultivating, disking, baling, or harvesting. Wear a dust mask or a folded, dampened cloth over your nose and mouth to reduce the quantity of radioactive materials inhaled when such activities can not be avoided.
• Do not process or distribute agricultural products until they have been sampled and found to be free of contamination.
• Do not destroy, slaughter or market animals.

Several of the response actions, which may be taken to protect agriculture products, animals, and other agriculture commodities, include:

• Temporary holding of food crops from market.
• Quarantine of food, animals, and other agriculture commodities.
• Placing animals on stored feed in place of grazing or forage.

Giving Animals Protected Feed

You may be advised to place animals on protected feed and water. This will help prevent contamination from harming your animals, and from entering the human food supply. Types of protected feed include:
• Grain stored in covered bins;
• Hay stored in a barn or covered shed.

Sheltering Animals

One way of protecting your animals is to provide them with shelter. Dairy cows and other milk-producing animals should be given priority as these animals can pass contamination on to humans through their milk. Secondary consideration should be given to egg-producing fowl, breeding stock, other livestock and poultry. Barns, milking parlors, machine sheds, garages, corn cribs, and swine or poultry buildings are all possible livestock shelters. Generally, masonry or concrete buildings offer the best protection. Although a ventilation system is needed to keep sheltered livestock healthy, it allows radioactive material to enter the building. Therefore, it is important to limit outside air entering the building to the minimum amount necessary for the animals’ safety. Do not use fans for ventilation unless absolutely necessary. If you must use fans, set them on low speed to reduce air intake.

Protection From Packaged Food Products

Food in packaging prepared before the release of radioactive material will not be harmful to eat as long as the outer wrappings are carefully removed and discarded.

Food, Milk Processors, Warehouses, and Commodity Terminals

Windows and vents to the outdoors should be closed. Any system that draws air from the outdoors to the inside should be shut down, such as vacuum systems, air conditioners and compressed air systems.

Preventative Protective Actions

Preventative Protective Actions are measures taken to prevent or minimize contamination of food products.

Milk: Remove all dairy animals from pasture, shelter them if possible, and provide them with protected feed and water.

Fruit and Vegetables: Wash, scrub, peel or shell fruits and vegetables, including roots and tubers to remove surface contamination.

Meat and Meat Products: Place animals on uncontaminated feed and water.

Poultry and Poultry Products: Monitor poultry if they are raised outdoors, especially if they are used for egg production. Poultry raised indoors and given protected feed and water are not likely to be contaminated.

Soils: If officials find that the soil is contaminated, proper soil management procedures can be implemented to reduce contamination to safe levels.
1) Idling, the nonuse of the land for a specific period of time may be necessary in some cases. However, in a worst case situation, removal and proper disposal of soil may be more appropriate.
2) Alternating types of crops may be beneficial.
3) Deep-plowing the soil may keep radioactive substances below the plant root zone, preventing plants from taking up contaminated nutrients, and allow the level of radioactivity to decrease with the passage of time.

Grains: Permit grains to grow to maturity. Additional milling and polishing will remove most of the radioactive contamination.

Water: Cover open wells, rain barrels, and tanks to prevent contamination. Filler pipes should be disconnected from storage containers that are supplied by runoff from roofs or other surface drain fields.

Food Processors and Distributors: Radioactive contamination of milk or food products in an affected area can occur during processing or transportation. These products should not be released for consumption until they are deemed safe or a decision is made to dispose of them.

Effects Of Contamination Of Human Food And Water Supplies

The amount of radioactive material released into the atmosphere, the duration of the release, and weather conditions, all can affect the accident's impact on people, animals, crops, land, and water near the site of the emergency. An initial concern would be the condition of fresh milk from dairy animals grazing on pasture and drinking open sources of water. Testing may be performed at the farm, the transfer station, or the processing plant. If fresh milk and processed milk products are shown to be contaminated, state officials will decide whether to dispose of them or hold them until safe for consumption.

Another concern would be the possible contamination of vegetables, grains, fruits, and nuts. The severity would depend on the time of year the emergency occurred. The time just before or during harvest is the most critical period. Crops may be sampled and analyzed by state officials to determine if they are safe to eat.

An additional concern would be the possible impact of the contamination on livestock and poultry. Pasture, feed, and water sources, as well as meat and poultry products, may be sampled and analyzed to determine if the meat and poultry products are safe to eat. Contamination of drinking water supplies is not likely to be a problem. If it occurs, it probably will affect only surface water supplies and not ground wells or underground water sources.

If land becomes contaminated, proper soil management techniques can reduce contamination of crops grown on the land. The procedures to be used would depend on the severity of contamination and specific crops to be grown.

Back to Top