Preparing for a Nuclear Plant Accident
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or NRC, is the U.S. agency responsible for protecting public health and safety related to nuclear energy. They oversee a great many elements related to operation and administration of nuclear plants and have furnished guidelines and policy for response and safety in the event a release of nuclear material does occur.
Almost 3 million Americans live within 10 miles of an operational nuke plant, and many more could potentially be affected in a major accident. If you live anywhere near a plant, this section goes doubly important for you. Before we do anything else, take the time to study that map above, and determine where the closest plant is to you and your relative position to it. You need to know how many, how far and what the prevailing winds and jet stream are like between you and the plant. Being typically downwind of a plant is bad, bad news in the unlikely event a meltdown occurs.
Any good crisis response plan will include a pre-, during and post-event phase, and that is exactly what we will do here.
Should an accidental release of nuclear material occur, you can expect sirens and full-tilt emergency alert systems to activate. Local television and radio stations will broadcast instructions on exactly what you should do.
At any rate, follow all instructions from the emergency alert system, but your priority is to increase the distance between you and any radioactive material as quickly as you can. This might mean evacuating if you have a quick egress route or it might mean sheltering in place in your home. Whichever solution you choose, you must take steps to prevent airflow into your shelter or vehicle that could carry radioactive material with it.
This is accomplished by closing all doors, windows, vents, chimney flues and other apertures. Shut down all heaters, air conditioners venting fans, intakes and similar appliances. If you have time, seal cracks and crevices with your plastic sheeting and tape.
Remember, we want as much material, and as dense as we can get, between ourselves and the radiation as possible. If you can go underground, do so. If not, head to the innermost part of the structure.
No matter what happens, stay out of the affected zone! Radiation loses strength fairly quickly, but a fresh release of hot radioactivity can cook you fairly quickly, or at the very least give you severe radiation poisoning.
If you suspect you have been exposed, it is vital you decontaminate as quickly as possible: strip all clothing, wrap it carefully in your heavy plastic to prevent secondary release of material, and keep it as far away from you as possible. Next wash your body and hair thoroughly with soap or shampoo (no conditioner! – that will bind radioactive material to you) and change into fresh clothing.
Tune in to the EAS for updates and instructions on evacuation and seeking aid. If you have been exposed to radioactivity, or begin to feel unusual symptoms like nausea, aches or burning, seek medical attention as quickly as you can. Radiation is an insidious and persistent killer, and timely aid may reduce or at least blunt the worst of its affects.
Assume anything outdoors or in an unsealed building was contaminated. This goes for objects, food, water supplies, anything. Radioactive fallout that comes to rest on an otherwise sealed container can dangerously irradiate the contents, creating a secondary hazard that can sicken or kill.
If you have evacuated, only return home when authorities tell you it is safe. There will be an enormous amount of investigation, monitoring, checking and sampling going on in the wake of an accident, and it will take time to collate the data and make a determination about the safety and habitability of the surrounding area and environment.
Your Nuclear Meltdown Survival Kit
Your nuclear fallout survival kit will be instantly recognizable to any prepper. Turns out most life support functions in any major disaster remain more or less constant. The following list is published as the minimum guideline by FEMA in cooperation with the NRC.
- Water – one gallon per person, per day. Minimum 3 day supply. Covers drinking and sanitation.
- Food – three day supply of non-perishable, shelf stable food. Aim for 2000 k/cal day for an adult.
- Don’t forget your can opener.
- Disposable Eating Utensils – this is definitely one time you do not want to be worried about washing dishes. Eat and toss it.
- Emergency Radio –Crank or battery powered. Make sure it receives NOAA and all EAS alerts.
- First-Aid Kit – For minor boo-boos and basic trauma care.
- Include extra batteries
- Whistle – For signaling.
- Plastic Sheeting – Heavy mil, for sealing and airlocking shelter location as well as containing contaminated clothing, etc.
- Duct Tape – For attaching and sealing sheeting, and miscellaneous other tasks.
- Sanitation Kit
- Baby Wipes, garbage bags and plastic ties
- 5 Gallon Bucket for containing waste. Fill it with sawdust or kitty litter to help control odor. Make sure you have an o-ring sealing lid.
- Wrench or Vise Grips –For turning off utilities.
- Gas mask (NBC or CERN approved)
- Cell Phones – Include chargers, backup batteries or alkaline-powered power cells to maintain charge.
- Prescription Meds and Glasses/Contacts –You will be up a creek if you lose your only set or run out of meds when trapped somewhere.
- Feminine Products
- Baby and Pet Needs – Food, formula, diapers, leashes, etc.
- Cash – Assume all cards will be frozen or not accepted. Cash money always speaks.
- Sleeping Bags and Blankets
- Complete Change of Clothes for all Family/Group members – you must assume someone will be exposed and contaminated. Make sure they are environmentally appropriate.
- Bleach and eye dropper – Useful for general disinfection and disinfecting water.
- Fire Extinguisher – In the event a fire breaks out while under a radioactive emergency, assume there will be no fire dept. coming.
- Matches and lighters –for fire starting.
Considering how rapidly a nuclear accident can escalate, it pays to keep a kit of the above at home and in the office, and perhaps one in your car also. You may not be able to make it home or even evacuate in time should the alert go out. If you have to pick a random building to shelter in, your kit may mean the difference between a safe and reasonably comfortable stay and death.
Security Considerations: Direct Attack, Hacking, etc.
For some years, the talk around national security concerns has revolved significantly around America’s aging infrastructure and our all-around vulnerability to hacking across many civil and government domains. Our power grid in particular is a tenuously fragile thing, and experts will be quick to regale you with horror stories about how easy it would be for professional, even amateur terrorists to plunge significant portions of our country into darkness and chaos.
As of March this year the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team confirmed that Russian hackers penetrated government entities and private companies in the energy, nuclear and aviation sectors, another proof positive that cyber attacks will be a weapon aimed at our heart should hostilities erupt.
The obvious concern when it comes to nuclear plants is that a remote hacking operation could access critical infrastructure or operational controls in the plant, allowing terrorists to cause a meltdown without ever setting foot in the facility.
Mercifully, that is the realm of fiction. Yes, anything that is connected to a network, or the internet at large is vulnerable to hacking, but that does not apply to nuclear plants: they have purposefully been designed as and remain analog-operated facilities. This means that there is nothing to hack, nothing to remotely take control of. They are islands unto themselves, informationally.
That does not obviate the risk of a direct attack by motivated groups taking over a plant physically, then using general mayhem or special expertise to trigger a meltdown. All nuclear facilities are guarded, but the quality of the security teams varies wildly, and there is considerable controversy over how prepared they will be against the special threat posed by a hardcore terrorist cell.
Practically speaking, a physical attack on a site that is not squashed utterly at the outset should be treated as an imminent release of nuclear material for your purposes.
A common thread when discussing a nuclear plant accident is the topic of bugging out, and the folks that claim they will simply jackrabbit the hell out of town at the first puff of glowing green vapor. It’s a fair idea, but one that must be braced by reality.
First, you very simply may not be able to bug out, at least not at the outset of the event. It may occur too quickly, and you may be caught flat-footed or unable to make your way past thronging masses of other people going to the same place as you are: away. This means you must have a viable plan to shelter in place, even if it is just a backup. Getting caught in a car or in the open is a bad thing.
Second, where will you go? If you plan to hit a piece of property or dwelling far, far away from the plant, you had better know what the situation is with prevailing winds and the prognosis on expected fallout lest you settle into a nice warm shower of ionizing radiation. Fallout from a nuke plant is usually the nuclear fuel itself, melted and mixed with boiling steam exhaust into a vaporous cloud of deadly radiation which readily travels with the wind.
Lastly, you simply may not need to bug out. The plant may be far enough away and the wind favors your position, in which case you can stay put as long as you stay on your toes. You might actually put yourself at greater risk by joining a mass exodus of panicked, fleeing people. Use your head and your reason; be smart.