What Do I Do in a Nuclear Emergency?

Nuclear Power Plant Emergency

If an accident occurs at a nuclear power plant near you, stay calm and listen to your local television or radio stations for updates and instructions from your state and local officials.

The NRC and the nuclear power industry define emergencies according to four levels of increasing significance: Unusual Event, Alert, Site Area Emergency, and General Emergency. See Emergency Classification for the definitions of these four levels.

Only in a General Emergency is radiation expected to leave the plant site in amounts that might threaten public safety; however, local authorities might initiate protective actions at an earlier stage.

If you live within 10 miles of the plant, you are within the "Emergency Planning Zone." You may receive one or more alerts to warn you of the situation once protection actions are initiated:

  • Sirens
  • A tone alert on your radio
  • A route alert from emergency responders (the “Paul Revere” method)
  • A robo-call from a public safety warning system (e.g., REVERSE 911®)

If you hear such a warning, tune your radio or television to the Emergency Alert System station for your area. The station is identified in the emergency preparedness information you receive annually from the utility. Follow the instructions you receive from this station.

These instructions may include directions for evacuating or for remaining where you are (called sheltering in place) to reduce any possible exposure to radiation. Remember:

  • Instructions will come from your state and local officials, not the NRC
  • Evacuation may not be the best course of action, depending on the conditions of the emergency and other factors such as wind direction.

In serious situations, federal response information will be available on the NRC Website, the NRC Twitter feed, and the NRC Facebook page, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)'s ready.gov.

Remember: If you are hurt or sick and require immediate help, call 911.

If you live near the plant but outside the 10-mile Emergency Planning Zone, you most likely will not be asked or required to take protective action. Stay tuned to your local media for up-to-the-minute information and advice from your state and local officials.

Dirty Bomb

A dirty bomb, or "radiological dispersal device," combines a conventional explosive such as dynamite with a radioactive material. If one explodes near you, take the following steps:

  • Stay away from any obvious plume or dust cloud. This will reduce exposure to any radioactive airborne dust.
  • Walk inside a building with closed doors and windows as quickly as possible and listen for information from emergency responders and authorities.
  • Turn on local radio or TV channels for advisories from emergency response and health authorities.
  • If facilities are available, remove clothes and place them in a sealed plastic bag. Saving contaminated clothing will allow testing for radiation exposure.
  • Take a shower to wash off dust and dirt. This will reduce total radiation exposure, if the explosive device contained radioactive material.
  • If radioactive material was released, local news broadcasts will advise people where to report for radiation monitoring and blood and other tests to determine whether they were exposed and what steps to take to protect their health

For more information, see Response to Dirty Bombs.

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Tuesday, July 07, 2020