Nuclear Power Stations
Benefits and Potential Risks of Nuclear Power
Used properly, nuclear fission (the “splitting” of uranium atoms) is a safe, dependable source of electricity. It is reasonable, though, to be concerned about what might happen in the event of a serious incident at a power plant. Let’s look at the two most common concerns: that the reactor could explode or that neighboring communities could be contaminated with radiation.
First, a power plant reactor cannot produce a nuclear explosion. The uranium fuel contains very little fissionable material. As for radiation, the complex structure of a nuclear power plant is designed to prevent the release of radiation. A serious incident, however, could allow some radiation to escape, most likely as a cloud, or “plume,” of radioactive steam that would be carried away from the plant by the wind. The degree of risk to the public would depend on the size of the plume, the direction and speed of the wind, and other factors.
Emergency Planning for Will County & Surrounding Area
Special plans have already been developed to protect the public in the event of a nuclear incident in your area. First, control room operators at the power plant would immediately notify local authorities. At the same time, special teams would begin testing radiation levels outside the plant and throughout surrounding areas. If necessary, area officials would declare an emergency and take the following measures to ensure public safety.
Warning Sirens. Communities across the U.S. use outdoor sirens to warn of fire, flood or other threatening events. The sirens generate a loud, continuous pitch for at least three minutes. In Illinois, sirens are tested on the first Tuesday of each month at 10:00 a.m. If you hear sirens and are not sure what they mean, tune to one of the radio stations listed in this pamphlet.
Emergency Broadcasts. Authorities relay emergency information and instructions to the public over local radio and TV stations, including the radio stations listed in this pamphlet. In an emergency, these stations are your best source of accurate news.
Shelter-In-Place or Evacuation. Officials might recommend that people either take shelter indoors or evacuate an area. It is critically important that you follow the recommended course of action. Staying home when instructed to evacuate or driving around when urged to stay indoors could expose you to danger unnecessarily.
How Do Nuclear Plants Work?
Power plants create electricity by running steam turbines, which are powered either by fossil fuels — coal, oil, natural gas — or by nuclear power. Nuclear technology produces energy by splitting uranium atoms in a process called fission. Fission generates heat that boils water for the steam that runs the turbines, which produce the electricity that we all use — making, for instance, toast for breakfast. In a nuclear power plant, pea-sized uranium pellets are stacked inside long, thin fuel rods which are grouped in “assemblies” inside a reactor “core.” The core is encased in a very thick steel capsule, and the entire reactor is further protected by an airtight steel and concrete building called a “containment.” This complex structure is designed to help ensure the safe utilization of nuclear power.
What Are the Real Risks of Nuclear Power Plants?
Sometimes people are concerned that a power plant reactor will “blow up,” but this is virtually impossible. The uranium contains only 3 to 4 percent fissionable material, and the fuel is further diluted to slow down the fission process. This low concentration can generate enough heat to boil water — but not enough to explode. In short, there is no way for a power plant reactor to produce a nuclear explosion.
Some people also think that they, or the environment, may be accidentally exposed to nuclear radiation by living or being near a nuclear power plant. Although radioactivity can be dangerous, keep in mind that a power plant reactor is designed to contain radiation, protecting the rest of the plant and the surrounding community. To ensure the greatest safety, however, any incident at a power plant that presents the slightest potential for a leak would be addressed with the utmost care.
First, special teams would gather detailed radiation readings at the plant and throughout surrounding areas. Depending on a number of factors — the amount of radiation released, weather conditions that would affect movement of the radioactive “plume” — state officials would recommend a course of action. A significant incident might require people to stay indoors or to evacuate to temporary relocation centers. In any event, you would be instructed in a safe course of action to protect yourself and your loved ones.
Local Nuclear Power Stations
Will County is home to the Braidwood Nuclear Station and sits within the Dresden Emergency Planning Zone. To learn more about local nuclear power stations, please visit the Exelon website.
If You Have Livestock
When advised to do so, remove all livestock from pasture, shelter if possible, and provide them with stored feed and protected water.