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Emergency Response

Q. Who do I contact if I have a radiological emergency?

A. If you are not an emergency responder, the best course of action would be to call your local 911 response agency or the local fire or police department. They are better equipped and trained to assess the hazard than anyone else. If you are a responder and are unsure of a radiological hazard, you should call the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Division of Nuclear Safety (DNS) at (217) 785-0600. You will be referred to the appropriate office staff to answer your questions or initiate a response. You may also call the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA), who will refer the call to DNS.

Q. What happens if the emergency occurs at night when the DNS and IEMA offices are not open?

A. DNS maintains a telecommunications center that is operational 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The on-duty telecommunicator maintains contact with the DNS Radiological Duty Officer who will assess the reported hazard, provide advice and verbal assistance, and, if appropriate, dispatch a response team to the scene. The DNS telecommunicator also monitors a variety of computer screens that reflect the current status of numerous safety systems in and around the nuclear power stations and follow prescribed notification procedures should any anomalies occur.

Q. How do you monitor the nuclear power stations?

A. DNS monitors the nuclear power stations four ways: first, there is a Gamma Detector Network (GDN) around all the plants in Illinois; second, DNS has installed a Gaseous Effluent Monitoring System (GEMS) in the cooling stacks of each station to monitor the effluent exiting the plant; third, DNS is linked to each control room computer and monitors about 1000 safety data points, 24 hours a day; and fourth, DNS Resident Inspectors work inside each plant conducting inspections of safety systems on a daily basis. A more detailed explanation of how these systems work is contained in the Radiological Emergency Response section within the Nuclear Facility Safety category of the website.

Q. I live near one of the state's nuclear power plants. What should I do if there is an accident?

A. An emergency response plan has been developed for each nuclear plant site. The plants are monitored by DNS around-the-clock. When an emergency condition develops, a determination is made whether the situation could pose a hazard to the public. If so, local officials are advised to sound warning sirens and broadcast emergency information that may include a recommendation to evacuate as soon as possible. If you live within a 10-mile radius of a nuclear power station, you should receive a brochure annually from the utility advising you of the steps to take when the sirens sound. The brochure instructs you to tune to a designated radio station for further information and provides instructions on controlled evacuation routes designed to help you leave the area quickly. Contact your county Emergency Services Agency for additional information on the emergency plans for your community.

Q. If I'm advised to evacuate, where should I go?

A. Local officials, through broadcast announcements, will direct you to one of several designated Congregate Care Centers in communities 15-25 miles from the power plant site. Representatives from DNS, state and local emergency service agencies, and the American Red Cross will be on hand at these facilities, typically a school or college, to provide assistance. You will be monitored by DNS to ensure you are not contaminated, registered by the Red Cross to assist in locating and reuniting families, and provided temporary shelter until the extent of the emergency is fully determined.

Q. Should I obtain and use Potassium Iodide (KI) pills as protection in the event of a nuclear plant accident?

A. Potassium Iodide (KI) is a drug that can limit the uptake of radioactive iodine by the thyroid gland in the event radioiodine is inhaled or ingested. But its effectiveness is limited. It is most effective only if taken before any exposure occurs. It does not protect the entire body nor does it prevent exposure from other radioisotopes that will be released in a serious nuclear plant accident. If you do choose to use KI, you should also heed recommendations to evacuate promptly to avoid any unnecessary exposure. As with any drug, read and follow the usage and dosage instructions carefully. If you are pregnant, a nursing mother, or taking other prescription medications, consult your physician before deciding whether to keep and use KI.

Q. Does DNS help people in case of a nuclear accident?

A. The Illinois Emergency Management Agency Division of Nuclear Safety is prepared to respond to any type of accident involving radioactive materials. For everything from nuclear power plants to alarms at scrap metal receiving stations, the DNS has trained staff members ready to respond. With years of experience and expertise, DNS staff members use radiation detection and measuring instruments, two-way communications, sophisticated computer analyses, Geographic Information Systems mapping and a host of other tools to determine the potential for harm to people and the environment that an accident might pose. Our 24-hour telecommunications center is equipped to contact any or all members of our emergency response team to help in any kind of emergency, at any time of day.

Q. How do you determine how much radiation is in the environment after a radiation accident?

A. In case of an accident involving radioactive materials, DNS uses computer models to help determine how much radiation is dispersed and where a release of radioactive material might go in the environment. With the aid of Geographic Information Systems mapping, we can also determine how many people live in the area around the accident, what businesses might be affected and which major roads can be used for evacuation. From the maps and our extensive array of data for the state, we can also determine the distribution of environmental effects and better analyze the appropriate methods to be used to mitigate the accident, if necessary. In addition, DNS would send radiological monitoring teams to verify the location and scope of radioactivity in the environment. DNS scientists apply their experience and scientific talents to solving real-world problems as quickly as possible to protect the people of Illinois.

Q. Why do you set up bigger emergency planning zones for protection of food and water than for evacuation of people?

A. Federal regulations for commercial nuclear power plants require that we establish 10-mile planning zones for protection of people from potential exposure to external radiation and 50-mile planning zones for the ingestion pathway of radiation exposure. Engineers and scientists have carefully evaluated the potential accidents that can happen at a commercial nuclear power reactor. They have determined that even in the very worst case, an atmospheric release of radioactive material will disperse in the air and there should not be a significant external radiation hazard beyond 10 miles from the release point. While this "plume" of radioactive material becomes weak enough at 10 miles to no longer be an external hazard, it may still contain enough radioactive material that it could pose a hazard if this material were ingested. Radiation from this material tends to do more harm to the sensitive tissues inside the human body than to our tough outer skin. Hence, the federal government has established limits for radioactive material in the environment that may find its way into the food chain, and has stipulated that states must have plans in place for protecting people from consumption of contaminated food within 50 miles of a commercial nuclear power station.

Q. What type of assistance is available to local governments from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Division of Nuclear Safety?

A. The Department provides planning, training, exercising, and equipment support to all levels of government within the State of Illinois. This support is free to local governments and maintained through scheduled field visits with staff from the Division of Local Government Support, Office of Mitigation and Response. Local governments that are specifically designated for emergency response to nuclear power stations and uranium conversion facilities located within Illinois may receive funding through the Department's Local Compensation Block Grant Program. Budget appropriation and departmental rule limit the amount of funds available and the purpose for which they may be used. Please contact Mr. Darryl Dragoo at (217) 524-7507 or by e-mail at dragoo@DNS.state.il.us for additional information regarding assistance that is available and the block grant program.

Q. What type of equipment is available to local governments from DNS?

A. DNS provides local governments, who attend mandatory training, a standard Radiological Hazardous Materials Preparedness Program Kit (RadHMPP Kit). The RadHMPP Kit and its components include two Geiger-Mueller style detection instruments, two direct-read dosimeters, one direct-read dosimeter charger, batteries, Radiation Exposure/Instruction Record Card, instruction manual, and radiological incident reporting forms. RadHMPP Kits are issued on a 36-48 month cycle and assigned to local governments either directly or through the County Emergency Services and Disaster/Emergency Management Agencies. All instrumentation remains the property of the State of Illinois. Each local government that receives a RadHMPP Kit must have at least one individual attend training presented by DNS prior to issue, and designate a point-of-contact. DNS handles the calibration and maintenance of all instrumentation during the normal exchange process. In addition, local governments that received the RadHMPP Kit are required to maintain the instrumentation in accordance with established guidelines.

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