Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station (PVNGS), located about 50 miles west of Phoenix near Wintersburg, is the largest nuclear energy facility in the United States. PVNGS generates 3,810,000 kilowatts in service of 4 million inhabitants of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas.
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. Nuclear power plants operate in most states in the country and produce about 20 percent of the nation’s power. Nearly 3 million Americans live within 10 miles of an operating nuclear power plant.
Local and state governments, federal agencies, and the electric utilities have emergency response plans in the event of a nuclear power plant incident. The plans define two “emergency planning zones.” It is possible that people living within the 10 Mile Emergency Planning Zone could be harmed by direct radiation exposure. The 50 Mile Ingestion Pathway covers a broader area, where radioactive materials could contaminate water supplies, food crops and livestock.
The potential danger from an accident at a nuclear power plant is exposure to radiation. This exposure could come from the release of radioactive material from the plant into the environment, usually characterized by a plume of radioactive gases and particles. The major hazards to people in the vicinity of the plume are radiation exposure to the body from the cloud and particles deposited on the ground, inhalation of radioactive materials and ingestion of radioactive materials.
Radioactive materials are composed of atoms that are unstable. An unstable atom gives off its excess energy until it becomes stable. The energy emitted is radiation. We are exposed to radiation daily. Small traces of radiation are present in food and water. Radiation also is released from man-made sources such as X-ray machines, television sets and microwave ovens. Radiation has a cumulative effect. The longer a person is exposed to radiation, the greater the effect. A high exposure to radiation can cause serious illness or death.
The Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) and the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing (ACDHH) have partnered to ensure the Whole Community is better prepared for an emergency or disaster. Whole Community preparedness means that all individuals, governments and businesses understand, engage and invest in what the entire community needs to be prepared. View an accessible video on PVNGS here.
Before a Nuclear Power Plant Emergency
- Build an emergency supply kit that includes non-perishable food, potable water, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, flashlights and batteries. You should add plastic sheeting, duct tape and scissors to the kit in order be better prepared for a nuclear power plant incident. You may want to prepare a portable kit (or “go kit”) and keep it in your car in case you are told to evacuate. This kit should include:
- Copies of prescription medications and medical supplies.
- Bedding and clothing, including sleeping bags and pillows.
- Copies of important documents: driver’s license, Social Security card, proof of residence, insurance policies, wills, deeds, birth and marriage certificates, tax records, etc.
- Make a family emergency plan. Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so it is important to know how you will contact one another, how you will get back together and what you will do in case of an emergency.
- Plan places where your family will meet, both within and outside of your immediate neighborhood.
- It may be easier to make a long-distance phone call than to call across town, so an out-of-town contact may be in a better position to communicate among separated family members.
- Inquire about emergency plans at places where your family spends time: work, daycare and school. If no plans exist, consider volunteering to help create one.
- Know your community's warning systems and disaster plans, including evacuation routes.
- Notify caregivers and babysitters about your plan.
- Make plans for your pets
- Refer to your copy of the If you live within 10 miles of the PVNGS, you should receive the annual calendar.
During a Nuclear Power Plant Emergency
If an accident at a nuclear power plant were to release radiation in your area, Maricopa County would activate the Emergency Siren Alerting System and the Community Emergency Notification System. They also would instruct you through the Emergency Alert System (EAS) on local television and radio stations on how to protect yourself.
- Follow the EAS instructions carefully.
- Minimize your exposure by increasing the distance between you and the source of the radiation. This could be evacuation or remaining indoors to minimize exposure.
- If you are told to evacuate, keep car windows and vents closed; use re-circulating air.
- If you are told to shelter in place, turn off the air conditioner, furnace and other air intakes.
- Shield yourself by placing heavy, dense material between you and the radiation source. Go to a basement or other underground area, if possible.
- Do not use the telephone unless absolutely necessary.
- Stay out of the incident zone. Most radiation loses its strength fairly quickly.
After a Nuclear Power Plant Emergency
- Go to a designated Reception and Care Center (RCC) when instructed by local authorities.
- Act quickly if you have come in to contact with or have been exposed to hazardous radiation.
- Follow decontamination instructions from local authorities. You may be advised to take a thorough shower.
- Change your clothes and shoes; put exposed clothing in a sealed plastic bag.
- Seek medical treatment for unusual symptoms, such as nausea, as soon as possible.
- Listen to local radio or television stations for the latest emergency information.
- Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
- Keep food in covered containers or in the refrigerator. Food not previously covered should be washed before being put in to containers.
- Know the emergency plans for your area.
- Download the PVNGS Media Kit.
- Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify a nuclear power plant emergency:
- Unusual Event—Unusual Event is the lowest of four emergency classification levels at a nuclear power plant. An Unusual Event is declared when minor problem has taken place. No release of radioactive material is expected. Federal, state and county officials will be notified of the problem. Sirens are unlikely to sound as there is likely no action necessary. Information will be provided to news media.
- Alert—Alert is the second lowest of four emergency classification levels at a nuclear power plant. An Alert is declared when small amounts of radioactive material could be released inside the plant. Federal, State and county officials will be notified of the problem. Sirens unlikely to sound. PVNGS, State and county EOCs are fully activated and coordinating their activities. Information will be provided to news media.
- Site Area Emergency—Site Area Emergency (SAE) is the next to the highest of the four emergency classification levels. A SAE is declared when small amounts of radioactive material could be released near the plant. Sirens will sound. PVNGS, State and county EOCs are fully activated and coordinating their activities. If you hear the sirens, go indoors immediately and turn on your radio to KTAR (620 AM), KMVP (98.7 FM), KTAR (92.3 FM) or local television stations in the Emergency Alert System to hear instructions from government officials.
- General Emergency—General Emergency (GE) is the highest of the four emergency classification levels for a nuclear power plant. A GE is declared when radioactive material could be released outside the plant site. Sirens will sound. PVNGS, State and county EOCs are fully activated and coordinating their activities. If you hear the sirens, go indoors immediately and turn on your radio to KTAR (620 AM), KMVP (98.7 FM), KTAR (92.3 FM) or local television stations in the Emergency Alert System to hear instructions from government officials. It's important to know that an incident at PVNGS could change over a period of hours or days. The public would be informed of any changes in the incident.
- Research additional information on how to plan and prepare for a nuclear power plant emergency