Due to the fact that over a quarter-million Massachusetts residents live within 10 miles of a Nuclear Power Plant, the safety and security of those facilities and response to a potential radiological emergency is of the utmost importance to public officials in the Commonwealth. A score of communities are located within the 10-mile Emergency Planning Zones (EPZ) of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth, MA, the Seabrook Nuclear Power Station in Seabrook, NH, and the Vermont Yankee Power Plant in Vernon, VT. MEMA’s Nuclear Preparedness Division is responsible for overseeing planning, training and exercises, and equipment to support a radiological emergency response. Additionally, MEMA works closely with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to protect the food supply within the 50-mile radii of the power plants known as the Ingestion Pathway Planning Zone. Working with the plants and local communities to better educate the public on how to best respond remains the key to ensuring everyone’s safety during a radiological emergency.
Before a Nuclear Power Plant Emergency
- Learn the terms used to describe a Nuclear Emergency:
- Notification of Unusual Event – This means a minor problem has occurred inside the plant. It may involve injury to a worker, hazardous weather or equipment problem. Public officials would be notified, but there is no need to notify the public. People in the area would not need to take any special actions.
- Alert – This could affect plant safety, but it is not expected to require any special actions by residents. Public officials would be notified. They would monitor the situation and be prepared to respond if necessary. As a precaution, Public officials may mobilize transportation resources. They may transfer school children to pre-designated host facilities outside the area and clear state forests and waterways. Emergency Alert System radio and commercial news broadcasts would inform the public of these actions.
- Site Area Emergency – This indicates a more serious problem affecting the plant and plant boundaries has occurred. Any release of radioactive materials from the plant would be below federal limits. State and local officials would keep persons in the area fully informed about necessary actions through the Emergency Alert System radio stations. As a precaution, public officials would transfer school children to pre-designated host facilities outside the area, if this has not already been done. Other precautions would be called for by state officials, as needed.
- General Emergency – This is the most serious type of emergency. It could involve serious damage to the plant and the release of radioactive materials. State officials might direct persons in some areas to shelter-in-place or to evacuate to a safer location outside the area. Warning signals would notify persons in the area. Special instructions would be issued over the Emergency Alert System radio stations.
- Learn your community’s warning system. They could include:
- Outdoor sirens or horns for 3-5 minutes.
- The Emergency Alert System (EAS) - information provided on the radio and television.
- NOAA Weather Alert Radio.
- ‘All Call’ or ‘Reverse 911’ an automated telephoning system for sending recorded messages.
- Commercial News Media.
- Residential Route Alerting, which dispatches Public Safety vehicles through neighborhoods announcing messages with Public Address systems.
- U.S. Coast Guard Marine Broadcast.
- A message on Teletypewriters (TTY).
- Find out when the warning systems are tested in your area.
- Obtain public emergency information. An Emergency Public Information Calendar containing plant-specific information is mailed annual to residents and employers within the 10-mile Emergency Planning Zone (EPZ) of each of the three Nuclear Power Stations which impact Massachusetts: Pilgrim Nuclear Station in Plymouth, MA, Seabrook Nuclear Power Station in Seabrook, NH, and Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station in Vernon, VY. If you need a calendar, contact your local Emergency Management Director or your Regional Office of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). The calendar is also available on-line at the MEMA website www.mass.gov/mema.
- Learn emergency plans for schools, day care centers, nursing homes and other locations you frequent.
- Learn about/obtain Potassium Iodide. In conjunction with an evacuation, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health may recommend evacuees to ingest Potassium Iodide (KI). KI is a drug that can protect the thyroid gland from radiation injury caused by radioactive iodine. The drug is approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is available over the counter. Emergency broadcast over the Emergency Alert System radio stations will tell people if the Massachusetts Department of Public Health advises them to ingest KI. It is prudent to have KI prior to an incident. Persons living Emergency Planning Zones may obtain one free KI tablet for each member of their household by requesting it from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Further information on KI can be found on their website www.mass.gov/dph/rcp.
- Be prepared to Evacuate (See Evacuation) and Shelter-in-Place (See Shelter-in-Place). Make plans in advance for your pets. (See Evacuation)
- Consider your transportation options. If you do not own or drive a car, ask you local Emergency Management Office about plans for those without private vehicles.
- If you or a family member or neighbor need Additional Assistance, let your local Emergency Management Office know in advance if you feel you may need special assistance during an emergency. Special help can be made available to assist with notification of an emergency, sheltering-in-place, evacuating, or staying in a mass care shelter. If you are hearing-impaired and would need to be notified of an emergency on a Teletypewriter or TTY (telephone device for the deaf), notify your local Emergency Management Office. All information will be kept strictly confidential.
During a Nuclear Power Plant Emergency
- Listen for the specific warnings. Not all incidents result in the release of radiation. The incident could be contained inside the plant and pose no danger to the public.
- Review your Emergency Public Information Calendar and keep it handy.
- Stay tuned to Emergency Alert System radio stations, as well as local commercial Media. Local officials will be providing specific information and instructions.
- Local instructions should take preference over information your Emergency Public Information Calendar.
- Evacuate to pre-designated reception center (see Emergency Public Information Calendars) to be monitored and checked for contamination, if told to do so. (See Evacuation.)
- If advised to Shelter-in-Place, do so. (See Shelter-in-Place.)
After a Nuclear Power Plant Emergency
- If told to evacuate, do not return home until local officials deem it safe.
- If you have been advised to shelter-in-place, do not go outside until authorities indicate that it is safe.
- Seek medical treatment for any unusual symptoms, like nausea, that may be related to radiation exposure.