Nuclear Power Plant Incidents – Mitigation (Actions Before, During, After)


No immediate health effects would be expected in the general public from a nuclear power plant accident. That is because the amount of radiation present would be too small to cause immediate injury or illness. However, there is a risk of long-term health effects and cancer may develop many years after the exposure.

The following actions are some important recommendations that you can follow through each stage of a Nuclear Power Plant emergency:[1] [2]

Actions Before: Determine Risk, Increase Knowledge, Safeguard, Plan

General All-Hazard Actions:

  • Determine the disaster risks in your locale and the hazards that accompany them.
  • Increase your knowledge about the emergency warning signals and alert notifications used in your community.
  • Instruct family members how to shut off water, gas and electricity to your house.
  • Make the necessary property preparations to reduce the damage from the hazard.
  • Acquire a backup generator in case of a prolonged power failure.
  • Check into insurance (property, health, life, and hazard type).
  • Make the necessary financial arrangements in case of a sudden evacuation and power outage that shuts down local ATMs and banks.
  • Organize important documents and records and store them in a portable lock box or safe-deposit box.
  • Perform home inventory video taping and store tape in a portable lock box or safe-deposit box.
  • Develop an Emergency Communication Plan with evacuation plan and ask an out-of-state person to serve as the "family contact".
  • Assemble a shelter-in-place Emergency Supplies Kit.
  • Assemble a mobile Emergency Supplies Kit that can serve as a “grab and go” bag?
  • Get a family member trained in first aid and CPR.
  • Make the necessary preparations and arrangements for pets, seniors, and the disabled.
  • Familiarize yourself with the emergency plans of your family member's employment building, school, day care center, or nursing home.

Hazard Specific Actions:

  • Obtain public emergency information materials from the power company that operates your local nuclear power plant or your local emergency services office. If you live within 10 miles of the power plant, you should receive the materials yearly from the power company or your state or local government.
  • Federal, state, and local officials work together to develop emergency response plans for nuclear power plants and surrounding communities. These plans are tested through emergency exercises that can include small-scale evacuation drills for public institutions such as schools and nursing homes.
  • Obtain information about official evacuation routes from local officials.

Three Ways to Minimize Radiation Exposure

There are three ways to minimize radiation exposure to your body:

  • Distance - The more distance between you and the source of the radiation, the less radiation you will receive. In a serious nuclear accident, local officials will likely call for an evacuation, thereby increasing the distance between you and the radiation.
  • Shielding - Like distance, the more heavy, dense materials between you and the source of the radiation, the better. This is why local officials could advise you to remain indoors if a radiological accident occurs. In some cases, the walls in your home would be sufficient shielding to protect you.
  • Time - Most radioactivity loses its strength fairly quickly. Limiting the time spent near the source of radiation reduces the amount of radiation you will receive. Following a radiological accident, local authorities will monitor any release of radiation and determine when the threat has passed.

Actions During: Safety Basics, Evacuation, Shelter in Place

If an accident at a nuclear power plant were to release radiation in your area, local authorities would activate warning sirens or another approved alert method. They also would instruct you through the Emergency Alert System (EAS) on local television and radio stations on how to protect yourself.

  • Follow the EAS instructions carefully.
  • Minimize your exposure by increasing the distance between you and the source of the radiation. This could be evacuation or remaining indoors to minimize exposure.
  • If you are told to evacuate, keep car windows and vents closed; use re-circulating air.
  • If you are advised to remain indoors, turn off the air conditioner, ventilation fans, furnace and other air intakes.
  • Shield yourself by placing heavy, dense material between you and the radiation source. Go to a basement or other underground area, if possible.
  • Do not use the telephone unless absolutely necessary.
  • Stay out of the incident zone. Most radiation loses its strength fairly quickly.

If advised to remain at home:

  • Bring pets inside.
  • Close and lock windows and doors.
  • Turn off air conditioning, vents, fans, and furnace.
  • Close fireplace dampers.
  • Go to the basement or other underground area.
  • Stay inside until authorities say it is safe.
  • If you must go out, cover mouth and nose.

When coming in from outdoors:

  • Shower and change clothing and shoes.
  • Put items worn outdoors in a plastic bag and seal it.

If advised to evacuate:

  • Listen to a radio or television for information on evacuation routes, temporary shelters, and procedures.
  • Minimize contamination in house.
  • Close and lock windows and doors.
  • Turn off air conditioning, vents, fans and furnace.
  • Close fireplace dampers.
  • Take mobile disaster supplies kit.
  • Remember your neighbors who may require special assistance � infants, elderly people, and people with disabilities.

Actions After: Get Disaster Relief, Clean-up, Salvage

The following are guidelines for the period following a nuclear power plant emergency:

  • Go to a designated public shelter if you have been told to evacuate or you feel it is unsafe to remain in your home. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345).
  • Act quickly if you have come in to contact with or have been exposed to hazardous radiation.
  • Follow decontamination instructions from local authorities. You may be advised to take a thorough shower.
  • Change your clothes and shoes; put exposed clothing in a plastic bag; seal it and place it out of the way.
  • Seek medical treatment for unusual symptoms, such as nausea, as soon as possible.
  • Listen to local radio or television stations for the latest emergency information.
  • Help a neighbor who may require special assistance - infants, elderly people and people with access and functional needs may require additional assistance. People who care for them or who have large families may need additional assistance in emergency situations.
  • Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
  • Keep food in covered containers or in the refrigerator. Food not previously covered should be washed before being put in to containers.
  • When the immediate danger has passed, avoid using foods from your garden or milk from cows or goats until they can be inspected by local emergency officials. Remember that contamination can affect areas many miles from the accident site.



  1. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, American Red Cross, CDC – Emergency Preparedness and Response, FEMA – Are You Ready? Guide,, Be a Force of Nature with NOAA’s Weather Ready Nation, National Weather Service Weather Safety
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