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Frequently Asked Questions about New Hampshire Emergency Preparedness for a Radiological Event

March 17, 2011

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Health Services (DPHS), along with the New Hampshire Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, is closely following the situation in Japan involving nuclear power plant accidents related to the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. (For updates on the current status of the accident, see the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) website at www.nrc.gov.)

In response to nuclear emergencies, the NRC works with other U.S. agencies to monitor radioactive releases and predict their path. The NRC continues to monitor information regarding wind patterns near the Japanese nuclear power plants. Nevertheless, given the thousands of miles between the two countries, Hawaii, Alaska, the U.S. Territories and the U.S. West Coast are not expected to experience any harmful levels of radioactivity. New Hampshire state authorities and experts have reviewed the available information and determined that there is no danger to New Hampshire residents related to the accident in Japan.


 
  • What systems are in place to protect New Hampshire from a radiological accident at a nuclear power plant?
    • As part of an established plan to assure current awareness and emergency response capability, New Hampshire has in place through our state Radiological Health and Public Health Lab programs an environmental monitoring system for radiation detection. This includes monthly and quarterly samples of soil, air and water at 26 locations around the State. New Hampshire also uses a system for daily monitoring of air samples through an electronic surveillance device called RadNet, which is part of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nationwide radiation continuous monitoring system for the nation’s air, drinking water, milk and precipitation. These systems enable the State’s public health and emergency management agencies to have an independent source of data regarding radiation levels and to detect any radiation levels above normal “background” levels. The State environmental monitoring is independent from the environmental monitoring that is done by the Seabrook Station and Vermont Yankee nuclear power plants. The two nuclear plants also make their data available to the State and the public.

      New Hampshire also has a well developed emergency response plan that is tested several times each year and involves state, federal and local partners in the Seabrook Station and Vermont Yankee ten mile emergency protection zone. This includes accident assessment and radiological monitoring as well as protective action decision making for events that would require a quick and well planned response to a nuclear power plant accident. Options that are tested include use of Potassium Iodide (KI), evacuation, sheltering in place and use of field-based testing information to determine safe return of the population.
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  • Will the public be able to access Potassium Iodide (KI) if needed?
    • New Hampshire keeps a supply of KI available for members of the public who reside within ten miles of either Seabrook Station or Vermont Yankee. Those residents should consult their respective emergency public information calendar or visit the DHHS website (www.dhhs.state.nh.us) for information about how to request KI tablets.

      It is important to note that while New Hampshire’s Radiological Emergency Response Plan allows for pre-distribution of KI to citizens residing within the 10 mile areas noted, the use of KI should only be considered based on guidance from public officials during a radiological accident. KI is a protective option for certain radiological conditions, but is not a substitute for other protective actions such as evacuation when advised to do so. Taking KI as a general preventive means of protection when there is not a radiological event deemed by the state public health officials to warrant use of KI is not advised.

      Additional information regarding the use of potassium iodide can be found on NRC’s webpage at the following link:
      http://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/emerg-preparedness/about-emerg-preparedness/potassium-iodide-use.html

      Since Potassium Iodide is classified as a drug, additional information is available on the Food and Drug Administration’s web site at www.fda.gov.
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  • What are NH public health and emergency response officials doing now to prepare for and respond to the nuclear power plant accidents in Japan?
    • The State agencies are participating in national conference calls with several federal agencies to get the most current information and guidance on what steps are being taken nationally and in various states (particularly the West Coast). Federal agencies include Health and Human Services, Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Energy, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The NH DPHS is monitoring the environment (air on a daily level, soil and water and plants monthly and quarterly) to assure there are no immediate increased levels of radiation present and that there is no danger to public health. There may be some detectable, above background levels in the future; however, we don’t anticipate there would be a negative health impact. The state agencies are also coordinating information and planning with other states in the region.
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  • Is it safe to travel to Japan?
    • People with plans to travel to Japan are advised to check the following websites for the most current travel advisories at www.cdc.gov (travel section) and also the U.S. State Department website for travel alerts.

      Refer to the NRC website for the best and most current information available about the nuclear powerplant accident situation in Japan.
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  • What should I do at this stage?
    • There is no increased public health risk to any residents in New Hampshire due to the current nuclear powerplant accident in Japan. Our state has a well-rehearsed plan in place to mobilize and protect the population if there were ever a nuclear power plant accident or increased radiation levels in New Hampshire. The state agencies would immediately inform the public if there were any event that threatens safety or public health.
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New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services
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