Officials are preparing for a nuclear disaster drill for the morning of January 2 in portions of southern New Jersey and eastern Delaware. According to the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management (NJOEM) , a full sounding test of the siren system for the Salem and Hope Creek Nuclear Generating Stations will be performed at approximately 10:45 am on Tuesday, January 2, 2024. NJOEM says, “There is no emergency at the plant and no actions by the public are required.”
However, PSEG Nuclear LLC, the operator of the side-by-side nuclear power plants in southwestern New Jersey do remind residents within a 10 mile radius which extends across both New Jersey and Delaware to be prepared all the time should an accident or disaster occur.
According to NJOEM, full sounding tests are conducted quarterly in January, April, July, and October on the first Tuesday of each calendar quarter. Silent tests are performed twice a month. “Federal Regulations relating to the operation of nuclear power plants requires routine testing of this system to verify its operability,” says NJOEM.
New Jersey and Delaware provide support for the full sounding tests with coordination of Emergency Alert System (EAS) messaging and monitoring of Public Inquiry telephones. The sirens that will sound are part of the Alert and Notification System (ANS) for the Salem and Hope Creek Nuclear Generating Stations located in Lower Alloways Creek. There are 35 sirens in New Jersey and 37 sirens in Delaware.
In the event of an actual emergency, the sirens provide a warning signal to the public at risk, indicating the need to seek additional information from Emergency Alert System messages. Additional information, including the yearly siren testing schedule is outlined in the PSEG Emergency Plan Information Calendar that is provided to all residents in the 10-mile emergency planning zones (EPZ).
Both New Jersey and Delaware have made Potassium Iodide (KI) available to people within the 10-mile Emergency Planning Zone (EPZ) for the Salem/Hope Creek Nuclear Generating Station. PSEG says, “In New Jersey, if you were unable to attend the public distribution, KI may be obtained from the Salem or Cumberland County Department of Health. For KI distribution dates in Delaware, call the Delaware Emergency Management Agency at 1-877-729-3362 (in-state) or the Delaware Division of Public Health at 1-302-744-4546.
According to PSEG Nuclear, KI offers a degree of cancer protection only to the thyroid gland and only in cases when the release contains radioactive iodine. If taken before or shortly after radiological exposure, potassium iodide blocks the thyroid gland’s ability to absorb radioactive iodine.
PSEG cautions, “Remember that KI offers protection only to the thyroid gland and its use would be in addition to evacuation and shelter in-place. Evacuation and shelter in-place are the primary modes of protection in a radiological emergency. The use of KI by persons in the EPZ is entirely voluntary.”
Beyond having KI on-hand, PSEG recommends people within the EPZ should know what action they should take in the event of an actual emergency. PSEG encourages people to know where their evacuation Reception Stations are and how to travel to them.
PSEG also encourages people within the EPZ to:
■ Ask about assistance for elderly or special needs persons.
■ Ask your workplace about emergency plans.
■ Learn about emergency plans for your children’s school or day care center.
■ Ask about animal care after disaster. Animals may not be allowed inside emergency shelters due to health regulations.
■ Meet with household members to discuss the dangers of fire, severe weather, earthquakes and other emergencies. Explain how to respond to each.
■ Find the safe spots in your home for each type of disaster.
■ Discuss what to do about power outages and personal injuries.
■ Draw a floor plan of your home. Mark two escape routes from each room.
■ Show family members how to turn off the water, gas and electricity main switches when necessary.
■ Post emergency telephone numbers near telephones.
■ Teach children how and when to call 9-1-1, police and fire.
■ Instruct household members to turn on the radio for emergency information.
■ Pick one out-of-state and one local friend or relative for family members to call if separated during a disaster (it is often easier to call out-of-state than within the affected area).
■ Teach children your out-of-state contact’s phone numbers.
■ Pick two emergency meeting places: the first should be a place near your home in case of a fire; the second should be a place outside your neighborhood in case you cannot return home after a disaster.
■ Take a basic first aid and CPR class.
■ Keep family records in a water and fire-proof container
PSE&G also encourages residents to prepare a disaster supplies kit. “Assemble supplies you might need in an evacuation. Store them in an easy-to-carry container such as a backpack or duffle bag,” suggests PSEG. These disaster supplies kit should include:
■ A supply of water (one gallon per person per day). Store water in sealed, unbreakable containers. Identify the storage date and replace every six months.
■ A supply of non-perishable packaged or canned food and a non-electric can opener.
■ A change of clothing, rain gear and sturdy shoes.
■ Blankets or sleeping bags.
■ A first aid kit and prescription medications.
■ An extra pair of glasses.
■ A battery-powered radio, flashlight and plenty of extra batteries.
■ Credit cards and cash.
■ An extra set of car keys.
■ A list of family physicians.
■ A list of important family information; the style and serial number of medical devices such as pacemakers.
■ Special items for infants, elderly or special needs family members.
Lastly, if you need to evacuate, PSEG recommends you:
■ Protect your pets.
■ Call your family contact – do not use the telephone again unless it is a life-threatening emergency.
■ Check on your neighbors, especially elderly or special needs persons.
■ Make sure you have an adequate water supply in case service is cut off.
■ Stay away from downed power lines
PSE&G says the radiation given off by the radioactive materials in commercial nuclear power plants is called ionizing radiation. That means that it causes ion pairs, which are positively and negatively charged particles, to form in the cells that the radiation encounters.
“It is important to understand that ionizing radiation from nuclear power plants is the same as ionizing radiation from other possible sources, such as cosmic radiation, medical treatments and the naturally occurring background radiation from the soil and building materials around us,” PSEG says.
Low-level ionizing radiation is measured in units called millirem (1/1000 of a REM). According to PSE&G, most people in the U.S. receive about 250-300 millirem per year from natural background radiation.
“The sun and stars give off radiation called cosmic radiation and most of us receive about 27 millirem a year from this source. We get another 28 millirem from the naturally occurring radioactive materials in building materials (usually bricks, stone and mortar) and the soil. There is an additional 200 millirem from the air we breathe, largely from radon,” PSEG says.
Medical treatments and examinations are another source of radiation exposure for many people. A chest X-ray is generally about 10 millirem, while a dental X-ray is usually about 9 millirem.
According to PSE&G, the average person living within 50 miles of a commercial nuclear power plant will receive about .001 millirem of additional radiation exposure on an annual basis. Even people living within a few miles of a plant rarely get as much as 1 millirem per year.
Of course, should an accident occur, significantly greater exposure could occur. Weather conditions and time of day can also play a role with how radioactive matter spreads around New Jersey and Delaware, within and beyond the EPZ. Throughout most of the year, the weather pattern moves air from west to east although afternoon sea breezes and/or the or the presence of a coastal storm can reverse that airflow.