June 15, 2010

Nuclear power plant "advice"

Are you prepared for a nuclear "accident"?

Many folks living within ten miles of Dominion Virginia Power's Surry Nuclear Power Plant are in the dark when it comes to a very basic form of protection in the event of a nuclear plant "event" that would release radioactive iodine. So the Virginia Department of Health is asking families to discard any potassium iodide pills (also called KI) distributed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission around 2002 because they expired. We got ours from a local pharmacy when we moved here in 2003. They say it's safe to discard them in your garbage can.

So what happens now? In the event of an accident at the power plant, the Department of Health will recommend and distribute new KI pills at "Evacuation Assembly Centers" outside of the evacuated areas, when "the projected radiation dose to the thyroid gland exceeds 5 rem." That sounds fine, except they don't tell us where these centers will be. I can just imagine humongous roadblocks.

IMPORTANT INFO: "Potassium iodide protects the thyroid gland against internal uptake of radioiodines that may be released in the unlikely event of a nuclear reactor accident." Of course, after you pop that dandy little tablet in your mouth, you gotta get the heck outta town becasue "Evacuation is the most effective protective measure in the event of a radiological emergency because it protects the whole body (including the thyroid gland and other organs) from all radionuclides and all exposure pathways."  (VA Dept. of Health)

The Surry power plant, operational since 1972, has two nuclear reactors. One was shut down in early June, 2010 after a 120-volt power supply failed, resulting in a reduced supply of water to the steam generators. That steam from the cooling towers is the ominous, yet harmless "plume" you see over operating nuclear plants. It is designed to shut down automatically as a safety precaution, and operated as expected. Too bad that the blowout prevention doodad in the Gulf didn't work as well.