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Nuclear Power Plants

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The page discusses how nuclear material is used to create power and the types of waste created by nuclear power plants.

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In the United States, over 100 nuclear reactors supply about 20% of our electricity. Worldwide, over 400 reactors provide 17% of the world’s electricity.

Nuclear power plants produce electricity through a heat-generating process known as "fission," in which neutrons split uranium atoms to produce large amounts of energy. This process also creates some hazardous by-products, which are contained within the fuel cladding, the reactor vessel, and the thick concrete and steel walls of the containment building.

Among the radioactive materials found at nuclear power plants you will find enriched uranium, low-level waste, and spent nuclear fuel.

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Who is protecting you

State and Local Authorities

State and local authorities maintain off-site emergency response plans, which are closely coordinated with the plant's on-site emergency response plan. They also conduct off-site radiological emergency preparedness exercises at each commercial nuclear power station every two years.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)

NRC issues licenses and policies governing safe operation of nuclear reactors and the commercial use of radioactive materials. NRC also performs inspections and oversees emergency response programs for licensees.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

In 1989 under the Clean Air Act, EPA published standards limiting radionuclide emissions from all federal and industrial facilities. EPA also sets environmental standards for offsite radiation due to the disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

FEMA evaluates both the state and local off-site emergency response plans and the off-site radiological emergency preparedness exercises that are conducted at each commercial nuclear power station every two years.

U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)

DOE is responsible for the development and implementation of the disposal system for spent nuclear fuel from the nation’s nuclear power plants. This activity is totally funded by a tax paid by the users of nuclear-generated electricity.

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What you can do to protect yourself

Be Informed

Nuclear power plants are designed and built with public safety as a priority, and the buildings are constructed to contain all the radiation. Emissions of radioactive materials from routine operations of nuclear power plants should not require any protective actions on your part. If you live within 10 miles of a nuclear power plant, however, in the event of an accident or a significant unplanned release you may be instructed to evacuate or shelter-in-place. During such an event you should listen to the radio or television for information and instructions provided by your local emergency management directors and/or your elected officials.

If you live with ten miles of a nuclear power plant, you may be issued potassium iodide (KI) tablets. In the event of a release of radioactive iodine, these tablets can prevent radioactive iodine from concentrating in your thyroid. You should only take KI when instructed to do so by local emergency management directors and/or your elected officials. These tablets only protect you from radioactive iodine and will provide no protection from direct radiation exposure or other airborne radioactivity. You should not take KI if you are allergic to iodine.

KI tablets only protect the thyroid from radioactive iodine. They do not protect against any other radiation. Only take KI when instructed to do so by local emergency management directors or your elected officials.

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Radiation Facts, Risks and Realities (22p, 1.12Mb [about pdf format]) [EPA 402-K-10-008]
April 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
In this booklet, you can read about radiation and its health risks. You can learn about natural radiation and radioactive material used in medicine and nuclear power.
Fact Sheet on Radiation Monitoring at Nuclear Power Plants and the “Tooth Fairy” Issue
March 2012. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
On this webpage, you can read about NRC’s strict limits on the radioactive emissions from nuclear power plants. The information focuses on Strontium-90.
Nuclear Power Plant Emergencies
March 2012. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency
This page provides information on nuclear power plants and potential nuclear emergencies.
Nuclear: U. S. Data
March 2012. U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration
On this website, you can learn about nuclear energy in the U.S. You will also find links to information on how much electricity U.S. nuclear power plants generate.
Uranium (nuclear)
March 2012. U.S. Department of Energy, energy KIDS
This information page for kids provides data on how uranium is made into energy and the basics of how nuclear reactors work.
How the NRC Protects You
March 2012. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
This site provides information how the Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulates and inspects sites where radioactive materials are utilized.
Nuclear Reactors
May 2009. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
This page contains links to information about NRC’s role in the nuclear power industry.
Student’s Corner: Nuclear Energy
March 2012. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
From the information on this Web site, you can learn about nuclear energy, radiation emergencies, radioactive waste and more.

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