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10 Potential Emergencies

In this section you will find:

  • General information about nuclear facility incidents.
  • Where nuclear power plants are located in Pennsylvania.
  • Important terms regarding nuclear emergencies.
  • How to prepare for a nuclear facility incident.
  • What to do if there is a nuclear facility incident.


Nuclear power plants use the heat generated from nuclear fission in a contained environment to convert water to steam, which powers generators to produce electricity. Although the construction and operation of these facilities are closely monitored and regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), incidents are possible. An incident could result in dangerous levels of radiation that could affect the health and safety of the public living near the nuclear power plant. Although the risk of an incident is slight, knowing how to react during an emergency can reduce the risk of injury.


There are five operating nuclear power plants in Pennsylvania:

  • Beaver Valley (2 Reactors)
  • Limerick (2 Reactors)
  • Peach Bottom (2 Reactors)
  • Susquehanna (2 Reactors)
  • Three Mile Island (1 Reactor)

Residents living within a 10-mile radius of a nuclear power plant should be aware of the evacuation routes established for their area and have an emergency plan in place.


Knowing the following terms will help you identify a nuclear power plant emergency:

Notification of Unusual Event A small problem has occurred at the plant. No radiation leak is expected. No action on your part will be necessary.
Alert A small problem has occurred, and small amounts of radiation could leak inside the plant. This will not affect you and no action is required.
Site Area Emergency Area sirens may be sounded. Listen to your radio or television for safety information.
General Emergency Radiation could leak outside the plant and off the plant site. The sirens will sound. Tune to your local radio or television station for reports. Be prepared to follow instructions promptly.


  • Get an emergency supply kit that includes enough provisions for you and your family to live on for a minimum of 72 hours (three days). Be sure to include plastic sheeting, duct tape and scissors in your emergency kit.
  • Make an emergency plan for you and your family.
  • Learn about emergency response plans established for your area. Local and state governments, federal agencies, and the electric utilities have emergency response plans for nuclear power plant incidents that identify and define two “emergency planning zones.” One zone covers an area within a 10-mile radius of the plant, where it is possible that people could be harmed by direct radiation exposure. The second zone covers a broader area, usually up to a 50-mile radius from the plant, where radioactive materials could contaminate water supplies, food crops, and livestock.
  • 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 these materials annually from the power company or your state or local government.


  • 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.
  • Take cover immediately, as far below ground as possible. Close windows and doors, turn off air conditioners, heaters or other ventilation systems. Stay where you are, watch TV, listen to the radio or check the Internet for official news as it becomes available.
  • Remember three key ways to minimize your exposure to radiation: distance, shielding and time.
    • Distance — The more distance between you and the source of the radiation, the better. Maximizing distance could mean evacuation or remaining indoors to minimize exposure. Follow instructions from emergency management officials.
    • Shielding — Having a thick shield of heavy, dense material between you and the source of the radiation will help reduce your exposure to the radiation.
    • Time — Most radioactivity loses its strength fairly quickly. Minimizing time spent exposed will also help reduce your risk.
  • Keep food in covered containers or in the refrigerator. Food not previously covered should be washed before being put into containers.
  • If you expect you have been exposed to nuclear radiation:
    • Change clothes and shoes.
    • Put exposed clothing in a plastic bag.
    • Seal the bag and place it out of the way.
    • Take a thorough shower.
    • Seek medical attention as directed by emergency management officials.
    • Follow directions of emergency management officials.