U.S. agencies provide insight into how to prepare for, respond to nuclear disaster
A person who may have been exposed to radiation is carried by soldiers Sunday at a radiation treatment center in Japan.
March 13th, 2011
01:30 PM ET

U.S. agencies provide insight into how to prepare for, respond to nuclear disaster

Disasters like those at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl long ago prompted nations with nuclear power plants to ensure detailed plans are in place in case of an emergency.

With potential crises unfolding at two nuclear plants, Japanese authorities have evacuated tens of thousands of residents from the danger areas.

A handful of people have tested positive for high radiation levels on their skin and clothes, and the Japanese government is working to distribute potassium iodide to residents near the reactors.

Potassium iodide blocks the thyroid gland’s absorption of radiation, and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission urges states to consider including the pills as a protective measure for anyone in the 10-mile emergency planning zone surrounding a nuclear power plant.

There is no indication the U.S. has been or will be affected by Japan’s nuclear troubles, but advice and regulations from U.S. government agencies provide insight into how Japan might respond to the damaged reactors.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says anyone living within a 10-mile radius of a commercial nuclear plant should receive annual emergency information updates from the government or power company.

Residents being told that a nuclear disaster is imminent should await local emergency announcements before deciding whether to flee or seek shelter. Those told to evacuate should put as much distance as possible between themselves and the source of the radiation.

While evacuating, keep car windows closed and use recirculating air inside the car. Be sure to bring a flashlight, portable radio, batteries, first-aid kit, can opener, essential medicines, cash, credit cards and a supply of sealed food and water, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also suggests purchasing a radiation detection meter and wearing a well-fitting mask, because inhaled and ingested radiation are the most damaging to living tissue.

“Radioactive particles may lodge in the lungs or digestive tract and release radiation directly to living tissue for a lifetime,” the agency says.

Depending on the wind speed and the size and direction of the radioactive plume, it may be safer to seek shelter than to evacuate. If evacuation is not advised or feasible, “the more heavy, dense material between you and the source of the radiation, the better,” FEMA advises.

“Most radioactivity loses its strength fairly quickly,” FEMA adds.

Remember to shut off fireplace dampers, air conditioning, ventilation fans, furnaces and any other air-intake mechanisms in your home. If possible, seek shelter in a basement or other underground space. If there isn’t one, go to a room in the middle of your home or workplace, the CDC suggests.

Close and lock all doors and windows and keep a battery-powered radio handy, FEMA says.

If you think you’ve been exposed to radiation, take a thorough shower, change your clothes and shoes, put the exposed items in a plastic bag, seal it and “place it out of the way,” the agency says.

The CDC warns that signs of radiation exposure may not be evident for years. The effects could be as mild as skin reddening or as serious as cancer or death, depending on the amount of radiation absorbed, the type of radiation and the length of time the person was exposed.

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Filed under: 2011 tsunami • Earthquake • Energy • Japan • Natural Disasters • Tsunami • World
soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. banasy

    Scary. Just...scary.

    March 13, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  2. banasy

    I think these measures are excellent for *any* kind of disaster. Be prepared!

    March 13, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Blue bandit

    Get ready folks sh-t is about to get funky!

    March 13, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  4. recipechefs

    Thanks for the post.

    March 13, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Nancy

    The government has been trying to warn us for years, getting ppl to join community emergency response teams ....we need to learn survival. what happened there can happen anywhere, and we should not be ignorant and think it wont happen to the US. everyone needs to learn to prepare, and not ignore it.

    March 13, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Best american career path

    Obviously...where can you be truly safe? No matter what happens and with great benefits and survival noaks ark women who love to have 13 children and can keep your secrets safe...including one decade of genocidal security advancement ? The u.s. Military.. Forget those boyscout uniforms. Its a party and no contraception is needed. Too old to join IT? Marry it... or seek consultant positions. Why take chances? Accept only the best.

    March 13, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. john

    It makes me sick how mr liebrebens comments to halt all nuclear facilities after the earthquake politics like usual in the us. Wake up man if you were so concern about damages after an earthquake should of said sumthing years ago have sum dignity for the dead instead of gaining political points or retire

    March 13, 2011 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Munroe-1

      And I agree with you on that, John. Our government all the way up to the top, is playing musical chairs and using smoke and mirror tricks. Cancelling programs, cancelling laws, scrapping entire tried & true methods. Just because it's unpopular or someone says something slightly out of context that makes the top dog look out of touch with reality; is no cause to fire someone or hop off the fence because it seem popular. I miss Nixon & Ford.

      March 13, 2011 at 11:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • frank rizzo

      John you obviously inherited the ignorance of your ancestors

      March 14, 2011 at 6:11 am | Report abuse |
  8. Munroe-1

    It is my best hope that the same NPWs that our Navy uses, will soon be the standard for commercial land use in America and world-wide.

    Short-sighted vision combined with rushing a commercial nuclear regulatory commission into giving their "okay" based on what is proposed as "state of the art" technology; and one has a clear and presant danger of another China Syndrome (that I believe may have allready happened or is inevitable).

    I am a self educated person and even I could make these commercial units way more safer.

    March 13, 2011 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Cesar

    Radiation is scary. Imagine if terrorists get hold of a way to use it as a weapon?

    March 14, 2011 at 7:20 am | Report abuse |
  10. HelenHull102951

    You can bet your last dollar that the terrorists are already in possesstion of the elements used in making dirty bombs. They're just waiting for the perfect time to use them! You can be assured that Iran is selling these materials to any and all terrorist cells that are as interested in putting a hurting on our country..

    March 14, 2011 at 8:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Munroe-1

      Quite true @Hellen. They showed a circular shaped, dirty bomb explove that sends dirty ball bearings at suck a high rate of speed, they penetrate several humans plus a car bbefore slowing down. I always held a theory that they hide their materials in caves, back when we only checked 10% of shipping containers before we had backwards x-ray running at full bore. Even then, we miss some.

      March 14, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  11. RUFFNUTT

    that's why i keep a full tank of gas.. and have a fast car.. so i can go the oppisite way of the mushroom cloud

    March 14, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • coastr

      - Sorry, bud, but you won't be able to outrun it!

      March 14, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
  12. NW456

    You can not shut them down. Just live with it.

    March 14, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Cesar

    @Jazz: ok, amiga. Shhh, Jazz is sleeping right now.

    March 15, 2011 at 12:30 am | Report abuse |
  14. Sarah

    May God be with us all. http://nopolicestate.blogspot.com

    March 15, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |