In this lesson – we will discuss Nuclear Energy Pros and Cons.
- Nuclear Energy Pros and Cons
- What are Nuclear Accidents
- How are they Classified
- The Dangers Associated with them
- How to prepare for and protect from nuclear accidents
- How to determine your RISK LEVEL of them
What are Nuclear Accidents?
A Nuclear Accident is well – an accident (operating errors, equipment failures or other mishaps) – but an accident that involves the release of radioactivity at a level that could harm people, the environment or a facility.
There are a many potential places where a nuclear accident can occur.
- Nuclear Power Plants
- Nuclear Powered Vessels: Ships and Submarines
- A Nuclear Weapon
- Truck or Train transporting nuclear material
- A Nuclear Waste Storage Facility
An accident can happen at any time, during: Production, Storage, Transportation, Use, or Disposal of Radioactive Material.
A nuclear accident at a power plant is not the typical explosion thought of when one thinks of a nuclear bomb going off. There will be no giant mushroom cloud or fire ball. But the dangers can be just as bad.
The dangers of an accident at a nuclear plant will come from:
- The handling of nuclear material.
- The operating of the plant
- The equipment itself.
The basics of How a Nuclear Reactor Works
- A (controlled nuclear reaction) occurs in the CORE of the reactor which generates heat. Lots of heat. A kilogram of Uranium-235 releases “Three Million more time the energy than a kilogram of Coal burned conventionally.”
- The heat converts the coolant (water) into steam.
- The steam is used to turn the turbines in the generator.
- The generator produces the electricity.
This explanation is in its most basic form (we are not trying to turn you into a nuclear engineer – but we do want to turn you into a prepared leader for your family) …
When there is a disruption somewhere in the Coolant System, the “Core” (where the nuclear material is located) may overheat.
When the heat generated by the Core exceeds the capacity of the cooling system to remove the heat, the Core begins to melt, (a.k.a. a Nuclear Meltdown).
As this happens the radioactive material may get released into the coolant.
As the process continues along, the pressures created by the Core overheating starts building up to the point where it starts breaching the vessel that was supposed to contain it, causing radioactive steam to be released. There is also a chance that a fire will break out which will generate radioactive smoke and ash.
This radioactive cloud of steam, dust and ash is called a PLUME. The plume is what causes the danger to the people in the area of the nuclear plant.
How far it will travel depends upon several factors:
- The density of the ash and dust.
- The strength of the winds.
- The strengths of updrafts within the wind to keep the dust and ash elevated.
- If any rain is present.
If any rain is present. How far – that’s hard to say because of all the variables that need to be considered. But let’s put it this way: Radiation from the Chernobyl disaster was detected everywhere on the globe. Radiation from the Fukushima accident has been detected in the United States. The detected concentrations were very low – but the radiation did travel those distances.
Side Note: We are constantly exposed to radiation. We get it from the sun, when we go to the dentist and have x-rays taken, the smoke detectors in our house, etc.You might find the link below interesting in what your average estimated exposure to radiation is per year. It is an interactive “Dose Chart” put together by the “American Nuclear Society”.Click on the button below, read the brief directions, and answer the questions. You’ll get your “Annual Dose of Radiation”. Dose Chart http://www.ans.org/pi/resources/dosechart/
Because the science behind radioactivity and its interaction the weather patterns it is such a complicated subject; it will be very important to listen to the government officials and the experts after a nuclear accident happens. [This is where an emergency radio will be very handy.] They have the knowledge and equipment to monitor all of the variables that will impact the radiation levels and the direction the radioactivity is traveling.
Classification of Nuclear Accidents.
The International Atomic Energy Agency was formed in 1957 with the purpose is to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The IAEA developed theInternational Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) as a way to rank a Nuclear Accident. The INES is a logarithmic scale similar to the Richter Scale that is used in ranking the destructive power of an earthquake.] Meaning that for each individual number that you go up the scale, the seriousness goes up by a factor of 10X.
Level 7: Major Accident: Major release of radioactive material with widespread effects; impacting both people and the environment. Chernobyl, Ukraine 1986and Fukushima, Japan 2011 were Level 7 Nuclear Accidents.
Level 6: Serious Accident: Significant release of radioactive material impacting both people and the environment. Kyshtym Disaster, Russia 1957 a plutonium production site for nuclear weapons in the Soviet Union.
Level 5: Accident with Wider Consequences: Release of large quantities of radioactive material within an installation with a high probability of significant public exposure. Three Mile Island, USA 1979.
Level 4: Accident with Local Consequences: Release of significant quantities of radioactive material within an installation with a high probability of significant public exposure. Tokaimura, Japan 1999. Sellafield, UK had 5Level 4 incidences from 1955 to 1979.
Level 3: Serious Incident: A severe contamination in the area not expected by design. Exposure in excess of ten times the statuary annual limit for workers. Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station, USA 2002.
Level 2: Incident: Exposure of workers and the public to radiation levels in excess of the statuary annual limits. Asco Nuclear Power Plant, Spain 2008. Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant, Sweden 2006. Shika Nuclear Power Plant, Japan, 1999 but was not reported until 2007.
Level 1: Anomaly: Overexposure to the public in excess of statuary annual limits. Penly, France 2012. Graveline, France 2009. TNPC, France 2008.
How to protect yourself and family during a Nuclear Accident.
Now that we discussed: Nuclear Energy Pros and Cons: Let’s discuss how to prepare and protect ourselves from them. As dangerous as a nuclear accident is: you can protect yourself and family from the effects of radiation. You need to minimize your exposure and know how to survive until the danger subsides or until help arrives.
Much of the protection tactics that we learned in the Hazardous Material Lesson can also be used to protect ourselves from the dangers of a Nuclear incident. We will build upon the Hazardous Materials List and fine tune it for a Nuclear Protection List. One big difference between the two types of events is:
A Hazardous Material event can involve many different variables depending upon the actual dangerous material(s) involved with the incident. These potential variables make it more difficult to determine exactly which tactics you should be using to assemble the best method protection.
At least with a Nuclear event – you know more of what you are dealing with and the options that you should be considering are much clearer. Bottom Line: Both types of events are dangerous and can be deadly.
Here is what you need to know about the dangers and tactics that are unique to a radioactive incident.
The main thing you want to control in a radioactive environment is your EXPOSURE to the radioactivity. You want to keep it to a bare minimum. There are three key factors that will impact your exposure time:
- TIME [Minimize]: Keep the time you are exposed to radioactive material to a minimum.
- DISTANCE [Maximize]: You want to have as much distance as possible between you, the contaminated material and the contaminated area.
- SHIELDING [Maximize]: Dense shielding materials (i.e. Metal, Concrete, Dirt, Water, etc.) will create a barrier and will lower your exposure.
There are two types of dangers associated with radioactive materials:
Radioactive Contamination: This happens when you come into contact with radioactive materials. In our situations, (I’m not talking about the operators inside a nuclear reactor – but everyday people doing everyday things), this contamination will come from our interaction with the radioactive objects: The radioactive dust and what it contaminated. We can become contaminated in one of, or a combination of, the following ways:
- Absorption: When it comes into contact with our skin.
- Ingestion: When we eat or drink contaminated food or water.
- Inhalation: When we breathe contaminated air in.
Radioactive Exposure: Exposure happens when you are exposed to the energy that is being emitted from the radioactive material. Radioactive material produces dangerous energy waves (you might have heard of the terms: Alpha, Beta, Gama and X-Rays) that are capable of penetrating your body and disrupting the atomic structure of your cells, tissue, and organs. Exposure to these types of radiation can cause: burns, bleeding, tissue and organ damage, cancer, mutation and death.
Radioactive exposure is a cumulative problem – meaning that it will add up. Every time you are exposed, the new exposure is added to your previous exposures. Several small exposures can be just as deadly as one large exposure.
One of the most important things you need to know: DUST.
The radioactive material that will fill the air after the event is actually a fine dust. This dust will behave very much like all of the other “normal” dust found in the environment – except this dust is very dangerous. The important thing to realize is: As with everyday dust – it can be controlled. But you need to know how to control this dust.
You need to take every step that you can to keep this dust off of you and your family members. The longer this dust clings to your clothes and skin – the longer your exposure will be to the radioactive material.
This radioactive dust will be influenced by the weather (winds, rain, air currents, water flows, terrain, etc.). The radioactive dust that is floating in the air will eventually fall back to the ground. This is where the term “Fallout” comes from.
As the radioactive particles fall back to the ground – it contaminates everything that it lands on: Both stationaryobject and moving objects. The non-stationary objects (Cars, Trucks, Animals, Pets that were outside, other Humans, Water in the forms of rivers and streams) all can act as vehicles to distribute this dust further away from the accident area. You need to be cautious of anything coming out of a contaminated area; including the people.
Rain will wash much of the dust out of the air. This is both good and bad. GOOD because this will be the first step in controlling the dust – BAD because this is where the radioactive dust (and the harmful radioactivity) will be mostly concentrated.
It just depends upon your location at the time when the rain hits; is the rain going to help you by reducing the radioactive dust before it reaches your location – or will it make a bigger problem for you by increasing the concentration of radioactive dust in your location.
Nothing you can do about the rain, but it is an important factor you need to consider in how you will move forward in protecting yourself from the radioactive material.
Other important things you need to know.
If you are outside – get inside. You need to protect yourself from radioactive particles. Get your pets inside and don’t let them out until the authorities advise it is safe. Anything or anybody who was caught outside in the contamination mush be completely washed off.
Try to put as much dense material between you and the source of the radiation. If your house, apartment building, place of work or whatever structure you are in at the time has a basement – go there. A storm shelter or fallout shelter will also work well.
Try to put as much distance as you can between you and the affected area as quickly as you.
If you need to be outside – like if you need to evacuate the area – try to position yourself: Upwind, Uphill and Upstream from the contaminated area.
Be very suspicious of consuming, or using, any water or food coming out of the contaminated area.
A Nuclear Accident is an extremely complicated event to understand: Was any radioactive material released, if so how much and what type. The radioactivity will be influenced by weather conditions. It will be important to listen to the experts and the authorities on what they are reporting regarding both the radioactive levels and the weather, and what actions they are suggesting. This is where your emergency radio will come into play.
It also would be a good time to Wake-Up your social support network. Have them start monitoring and summarizing the news that is coming out. Take it the next step and have them feed you information that you are going to need to complete your next objectives. Leverage them so that you can focus on surviving, protecting, and getting your family to the next level of your Disaster Plan.
What are the signs (symptoms) of Radiation Sickness?
Early Signs to be on the lookout for:
Long Term Signs:
- Loss of hair
- Bleeding in the mouth, under the skin, and in the kidneys.
Other protective measures:
Radiation Detection Equipment (Dosimeters):
If you find yourself in a radioactive event, it will be very important to monitor your “cumulative dose” of the radiation that you have been exposed to. There are several devices ranging from expensive to very affordable that will do this for you. The level of detection you want to get will be driven by; the risk assessment you did on your location, and if your family group has children, seniors, or family members with existing health issues.
Geiger Counters can range in price from $100 to several thousand dollars. The determining factor for the price of a Geiger counter is bases upon:
- Quality of construction.
- Sensitivity of detection.
- Types of radiation the device is capable of detecting: Alpha, Beta, Gama and X-Rays.
A Geiger counter will also be able to check: food, water, clothing, rooms, cars, soils, etc. for contamination.
Radiation Monitors Detectors:
These types of devices are smaller and can be placed directly on the person or be kept in a room.
RADStickers are small stickers that can be stuck on a child’s coat, kept in your wallet or purse, or be placed anywhere you want to monitor radiation exposure. These stickers are cheap and can run anywhere from $5.00 to $20.00.
A radiation monitor is an electronic device that offers more of a detection range than the RADStickers and can range in price from $50 to several hundred dollars. The sizes of these devices can be as small as a key chain to as large as a handheld calculator. Some have even been built into wrist watches.
Radioactive Iodine is the most common dangerous elements found in the area of a nuclear event. This is what the bulk of the population will need to deal with during the nuclear event. Radioactive Iodine targets the Thyroid Gland and can cause an epidemic of Thyroid Cancer after a nuclear event. Potassium Iodidetablets help prevents the absorption of radiation by the Thyroid gland.
Potassium Iodide Tablets are usually available in dosages of 65mg or 130mg. The recommended dosages are: Adults should be taking the 130mg tablet once a day and children should take the 65mg tablet once a day. To get the full effectiveness of the Potassium Iodine – you should start taking them 30 minutes to 24 hours before being exposed to any radiation. This will give the Potassium Iodide some time to get absorbed into your system. Again, before taking any of these tablets – check with your doctor. There are certain medical conditions that would make it dangerous for a person to take these tablets.
You may want to consider giving Potassium Iodide to your cats and dogs. They could benefit from the protection as well. A large dog should be ok with a ½ tablet while smaller cats and dogs should be given a ¼ tablet. Same as with humans – treat once a day.
Potassium Iodide will be a very valuable and scarce commodity after the nuclear event happens. Plan on buying and stocking prior to any nuclear event, because afterwards – it will be very difficult to get it.
Air Purification Systems:
The best protection from radioactive fallout is to be indoors in your “Shelter Room”. Shelter rooms were discussed in detail in the Hazardous Materials Lesson. Being that you may be inside your Shelter Room for an extended period of time – you should consider having a HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air)purifier in the room. HEPA filters actually were designed during the Manhattan Project (The US project to build the first Atomic Bomb) to help control air borne radioactive particulates. Even if you have a whole house air filter system, it will be difficult to seal off your entire house. It would be better to have a unit specifically designated for the Shelter Room.
Face masks and respirators can be used if you need to go outside of your Shelter Room or outside of your house. Both will have varying ranges of effectiveness against protection from nuclear fallout; but they are still better than having no inhalation protection. A hankie or cloth (preferable dampened) can be used if no other forms of protection are available.
How to determine the location of the SOURCES of Potential Nuclear Accidents
There will be 4 Factors that will be used to determine our Risk Assessment for Nuclear Accidents.
- Proximity to a Nuclear Reactor
- Proximity to a High Risk Nuclear Reactor
- Proximity to a Nuclear Military Facility or Nuclear Production Complex
- Proximity to Radioactive Waste Disposal Sites
Risk Factor #1: To determine the distance of your location (or the location you are researching) to the nearest Nuclear Plant is rather simple.
Enter your address into the box located in the top right hand corner of the map. You will get a regional map showing all of the nuclear reactors in your area with the distance to each one.
- If you are less than 10 miles from a Nuclear Plant: Give yourself 2 points.
- If you are more than 10 miles – but less than 50 miles from a Nuclear Plant: Give yourself 1 point.
You want more information? Click on the little Nuclear Triangle in the Red Circle and it will give you the name of the plant, how many reactors it has, and how many active reactors it has.
You want even more information? Click on the NRC Link in the box that popped up. It will give you a detailed report on the plant. Even the plant’s safety report. You can even subscribe to their “E-mail Notices for Reactor Correspondences”. Pretty Cool! I suggest that you sign up for any plant that may have an impact on your location.
Risk Factor #2: Proximity to a Nuclear Reactor that has a High Vulnerability Rank.
OK, so now you know how to determine which nuclear reactors are near you – we now are going to determine:
- Which nuclear power plants are located in the most dangerous physical locations
- Have the weakest relative operating conditions
- Would affect the greatest number of people should an unforeseeable emergency would occur.
This article ranks all 65 nuclear plants in the USA based upon safety records, potential disasters and nearby populations. A Rank of 1 is the Worst. A Rank of 2 is the second Worst, etc., etc…
Look up the ranking of the nuclear plants that came up in your “Proximity to a Nuclear Reactor” exercise above and look for the rankings of the reactors listed.
From the exercise in the above section, if you determine that one of the Nuclear Plants has a Ranking between 1 and 20 on the Vulnerability List, then proceed with the next section. If not – you can skip this section.
- If you are less than 10 miles from a High Vulnerability Nuclear Plant: Give yourself an additional 2 points.
- If you are more than 10 miles – but less than 50 miles from a High Vulnerability Nuclear Plant: Give yourself an additional 1 point.
Risk Factor #3: U.S. Military Facilities: U.S. Naval Ship Yards, Nuclear Production Complexes
We should have a quick discussion on U.S. Military nuclear accidents. They don’t happen very often but when they do – they can have major impacts. This is being reported just to reinforce; “No matter where you are – there is a chance of a nuclear accident happening – and you better know what to do to protect yourself and your loved ones.”
The First Category is called the WHOOPS! Category. This is when a nuclear weapon is accidentally dropped. Let’s face it. When you are dealing with human beings – an accident has the potential to happen at any time. Let it be driving your car down the road, or handling nuclear weapons.
- Atlantic City, NJ 1957
- Savannah, GA 1958
- Goldsboro, NC 1961
The Second Category is when a plane carrying a nuclear weapon crashes.
- Okinowa 1965
- Palomares, Spain 1966
- Thule Air Base, Greenland 1968
The Third Category is an accident at one of the government facilities.
Castle Bravo Test 1954 at the Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands. Castle Bravo was the most powerful nuclear device ever detonated by the United States. The problem? Well, they thought they were building a hydrogen bomb that was going to have an expected yield of 4 to 8 megatons. They ended up making one with a yield of 15 megatons. [It looks like somebody(s) screwed up the recipe and added a little too much baking soda or flour to the mixture.] The fireball was 4-1/2 miles across, visible from 250 miles away and left a crater 6,500 feet in diameter and 250 feet deep. The mushroom cloud climbed to a height of 130,000 feet and had a diameter that was 62 miles across. The result, the most significant accidental radioactive contamination ever (7 thousand square miles) caused by the United States.
Side Note: The crazy thing with this test was that it was supposed to be a Top Secret Test. But it was such a large explosion that almost everybody on Earth heard it. So much for keeping things “Hush-Hush”.
Side Note: Then things got even crazier: The Soviet Union hears about the bomb (like they couldn’t) and they decide they have to make a bigger one. So seven years later they detonate a 50 megaton bomb called Tsar Bomba. The most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated. This one bomb was more than “10 times the combined power of all the conventional explosives used in World War II.” The mushroom cloud was 7 times higher than Mount Everest!
OK, so now that we know that even the U.S. Government can have nuclear accidents. That brings up the next questions: Where are the U.S. facilities that have (or may have) nuclear weapons or processing facilities? Are any of them located near our location? If they are, we need to take them into considerations along with the nuclear reactors.
Here is a list of the reported Nuclear Weapon Production Facilities in the United States.
If any of them are within 100 miles of you, you should note it.
- If you are less than 10 miles from a Reported Weapons Production Complex: Give yourself 2 points.
- If you are more than 10 miles – but less than 50 miles from a Reported Weapons Production Complex: Give yourself 1 point.
OK, so let’s expand are search for military bases, stock piles etc. Click on this button: Nuclear Bombs in Your Backyard. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/11/map-nuclear-bombs-power-weapons
This site shows a map with all of the “Nuclear Bombs in Your Backyard”. As you did above, if any of these facilities are within 50 miles of your location, make a note of it.
Here are a few more website that complements the above lists and fills in some of the holes of the other lists. It has some dated information, but if there is a possibility of a piece of nuclear equipment located at the location – I would address it. These lists are not that big and you should be able to determine if there are any bases or facilities that you should be concerned about. We are working on a plan for the safety of your family. “We will assume the Worst – and Hope for the Best.”
Click on the links listed below, go the states, or areas, that are within 100 miles of your location (or the location you are researching) and make a note of it. Pick 3 sites
- If you are less than 10 miles from a Reported Military Base that is reported in one of the list above for storing nuclear weapons: Give yourself 2 points.
- If you are more than 10 miles – but less than 50 miles from a Reported Military Base that is reported in one of the list above for storing nuclear weapons: Give yourself 1 point.
Risk Factor #4) The last place we need to investigate for potential nuclear accidents: Radioactive Waste Disposal Sites.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission lists all of the nuclear disposal facilities in the United States. They classify these disposal sites as: Low Level, High Level and Incidental.
For the “Low Level“ Waste Disposal Facilities:Low Level Sites. http://www.nrc.gov/waste/llw-disposal/licensing/locations.html
For the “High Level“ Waste Disposal Facility: Yucca Mountain High Level http://www.nrc.gov/waste/hlw-disposal/photo-loc.html
And for “Disposal Facilities for Incidental Waste: Incidental Waste http://www.nrc.gov/waste/incidental-waste/wir-process/wir-locations.html
- If you are less than 10 miles from a Reported Radioactive Waste Disposal Site: Give yourself 2 points.
- If you are more than 10 miles – but less than 50 miles from a Reported Radioactive Waste Disposal Site: Give yourself 1 point.
Final Step: Now add up all the points that you recorded and enter the total number into your Risk Assessment for a Nuclear Accident.
- If you totaled up 2 Points; Enter it under the column for “2-Low”.
- If you totaled up 4 points; Enter it under the Column “4-High”.
- The maximum number is 5. Even if you get a number that is over 5 – treat it as a 5.
OK, So now you have your Risk Assessment for a Nuclear Accident Determined. Congratulations! You are making Excellent Progress!
This is what you should be taking away from this module:
- Nuclear Energy Pros and Cons.
- What is a Nuclear Accident.
- Where are the potential places that a Nuclear Accident can happen.
- The basics of how a Nuclear Plant works.
- What is a “Melt-Down”.
- What is a “Plume”.
- The 2 ways that radioactivity can poison us.
- Classifications of Nuclear Accidents.
- How to locate sources of potential nuclear accidents in your area.
- Determined Your Risk Assessment Level for a Nuclear Accident.
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