In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear power plant leak in japan, Americans began to analyze just how many fault lines lay in the shadow of nuclear power plants.
In fact, Congressional Energy Committee members Edward Markey (D-MA) and Lois Capps (D-CA) wrote to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in March 2011 to stress that several nuclear reactors in the United States located in seismically active areas “are not designed with sufficient levels of resiliency against the sort of earthquakes scientists predict they could experience.” The Congress members identified eight nuclear reactors on the seismically active West Coast, and 27 more reactors near the New Madrid fault line in the Midwest.
Thirty-one more reactors in the United States are of the same design as the Fukushima plant, 12 of which “are located in seismically active zones,” the Congressional letter added. No matter where you are, you could be at risk of a nuclear leak if an earthquake ever strikes. Following is the information you need to stay safe.
Fight or flight?
If word comes to you that a nuclear leak has occurred, you’ll have to make a split-second decision about whether it’s safer for you to settle into a secure place or to leave the area, says Shane Connor of Ki4U, Inc., a nuclear preparedness advice organization. “You never want to be caught outside, stuck in a car if fallout has begun or could arrive before you leave the area altogether and get to a safer place,”
Connor advises. “You never want to risk being exposed outside at all, even just for a couple minutes once fallout has begun or during those first couple days of the highest lethal intensity.” If you are unsure of whether you can safely flee, you are better off staying put,
Connor advises. “If you are not highly confident of where the fallout is coming from, where the wind is going to be blowing it, how soon it will arrive, and that you can evacuate and be long gone before it even ever does arrive, then you need to forget about evacuating and quickly hunker down, best as you can, right where you are,” he says.
Create your shelter
If you decide to stay home and wait out the nuclear exposure, don’t fear the worst you won’t be in your makeshift shelter forever. “That’s a big part of the ‘good news,’ with a nuclear bomb explosion, as radioactive fallout loses its lethal intensity very quickly,” Connor says.
The intensity is 90 percent gone in seven hours, and 99 percent gone in 48 hours, he adds. However, with a nuclear power plant meltdown, it could be spewing forth radioactive fallout for days and weeks, or more.
In that case, eventual evacuation, when safer to quickly do so later, may be your only option. “Even a cramped and uncomfortable, last-minute, thrown-together, expedient shelter would be bearable for getting through those first couple days of the worst of it,” Connor advises.
Don’t expect to drink tap water
After surviving fallout and later emerging from your shelter, and before aid arrives or evacuation begins, you have to contend with everything you would for any major catastrophe complete disruption of services, Connor says. “This includes no water, sewer, food, electricity, fuel, medical aid, communications, police, fire, etc.,” he says. You can rely on any stored water and well water if you have means to extract it (but not surface water), as well as packaged and sealed food, he advises.
Stock non-food items
In addition to food and water, you’ll ideally have a radiation-detecting instrument with you to confirm that radiation levels are safe before you emerge from your shelter, Connor advises. If you don’t have one, he recommends that you have a battery-operated, portable radio from which you can glean information that local officials disseminate. “I’d also have plenty of cheap N95 articulate filter respirators on-hand to use during the event, and also for after ward, to keep any remaining radioactive dust out of my lungs for a couple weeks,” Connor adds.
Don’t have a basement?
Don’t panic if you don’t have a basement and you aren’t aware of anyone nearby who has one where you can camp out during a nuclear threat, you can put together a last-minute shelter by using what you have on-hand.
For instance, you can push a heavy table into the center of the house, Connor advises. “If no heavy table is available, you can take internal doors off their hinges and lay them on supports to create your ‘table,’” he says.
Next, he adds, you’ll stack any available mass on top of and surrounding the open sides—anything heavy will do, including books, wood, bricks, sandbags, heavy appliances, full file cabinets, full water containers, your food stocks, even boxes and pillow cases full of anything heavy, like dirt. “Everything you can pile up and around it has mass that will help absorb and stop more radiation from penetrating inside—the heavier the better,” Connor says. “However, be sure to reinforce your table and supports so you do not overload it and risk collapse.”
You’ll want to leave a small crawl-through entrance that you can later cover after you enter the shelter, and you should create a gap at the top to allow exhaust air out. Create another four- to six-inch hole at the other end of the shelter to allow fresh air to enter.
Air does not become radioactive, Connor adds, so if your home is reasonably snug and outside air intakes are closed, there won’t be any wind blowing through it to carry the radioactive fallout dust inside. “Inside your mass-piled shelter in the center of the house, you’ve maximized your distance from the fallout outside and surrounded yourself with radiation-absorbing mass, and could then be cutting your exposure by 100-fold or more,” Connor says. “That could be all the difference needed between survival or a lethal dose.”
Should you take potassium iodide?
If you live near a nuclear power plant, chances are that your local government will distribute potassium iodide for you to ingest following an emergency. However, don’t swallow that pill right away. You should only take potassium iodide “if you have been instructed to do so by local public health or emergency management officials,” the Centers for Disease Control says on its Web site.
What levels are safe?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, you should limit your exposure beyond background radiation to about 100 mrem per year. As an example, a medical X-ray typically delivers less than 10 mrem.