A reader, Charles, sent me this video on Facebook and asked my thoughts. I also had seen this related article on Drudge. I guess, long story short, I'm not that concerned... But if I lived in the areas around these plants, I'd keep a close eye on the flood waters.
The guy in the video talks about a "Level 4 Emergency" and the news reporter says, "notification of an unusual event" both in very ominous tones. Fact is, they are the same thing, and both are the lowest form of "problem" at a nuke plant, and are fairly common. Just now, my wife, who used to be an emergency dispatch supervisor in a county that partially fell in the 10 mile Emergency Planning Zone of a nuke plant, said that they used to get those calls from the plant a couple times a year. During the recent tornadoes in Virginia, the plant that I work near had an "unusual event" when a tornado touched down on the outskirts of the plant and caused a power outage.
The four levels of nuclear plant emergency are (Courtesy of Louisiana Homeland Security)
- Notification of Unusual Event is the least serious of the four levels. The event poses no threat to you or to plant employees, but emergency officials are notified. No action by the public is necessary.
- Alert is declared when an event has occurred that could reduce the plant's level of safety, but backup plant systems still work. Emergency agencies are notified and kept informed, but no action by the public is necessary.
- Site Area Emergency is declared when an event involving major problems with the plant's safety systems has progressed to the point that a release of some radioactivity into the air or water is possible, but is not expected to exceed Environmental Protection Agency Protective Action Guidelines (PAGs) beyond the site boundary. Thus, no action by the public is necessary.
- General Emergency is the most serious of the four classifications and is declared when an event at the plant has caused a loss of safety systems. If such an event occurs, radiation could be released that would travel beyond the site boundary. State and local authorities will take action to protect the residents living near the plant. The alert and notification system will be sounded. People in the affected areas could be advised to evacuate promptly or, in some situations, to shelter in place. When the sirens are sounded, you should listen to your radio, television and tone alert radios for site-specific information and instructions.
Emergency Assembly Centers (where evacuees go to be evaluated and decontaminated) wouldn't open until a full General Emergency that actually threatened the area.
If you live or work near a nuke plant, I really encourage you to take the FEMA IS-3 on-line course. I learned a lot about the safety precautions in place at a plant, and how they work. If nothing else, it will give you some peace of mind, and you'll know what is hype and what is important.