Vermont works diligently to prevent radiological incidents and to be prepared for radiological and nuclear emergencies. State law enforcement monitors for radiation during their routine work as part of Vermont’s Preventive Radiological Nuclear Detection Program. The Health Department and the Department of Public Safety train and prepare for all types of radiological and nuclear emergencies.
A radiological incident could be as simple as a lost or stolen source of radiation. This is a potentially dangerous situation and local law enforcement should be contacted immediately by calling 911. It could also include serious injury or be involved in a fire. In any life-threatening situation, call 911 for emergency medical services, fire department and law enforcement response.
After calling 911 — as necessary — call the Vermont Emergency Management Watch Officer at 800-347-0488. This number is staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The Watch Officer will contact the Radiological Health Program so they can respond as appropriate. The Radiological Health Program and Vermont Hazardous Materials Response Team are specially trained and equipped for any radiological or nuclear incident. Both train and exercise regularly and work closely with other State and Federal radiological and nuclear response and recovery resources.
Radiological incidents could also be an act of terrorism as with a radiation exposure device (RED) or radiological dispersal device (RDD). An RED is a source of radiation, such as radioactive material or an x-ray machine, that is left somewhere to expose people and potentially make them sick. An RDD may be radioactive materials dispersed with explosives (a dirty bomb) or with a device like a sprayer. Knowing that this is occurring is difficult without seeing containers labeled as radioactive or without using a radiation measurement device.
Radiological and Nuclear Emergencies
Radiological emergencies involve radioactive materials or radiation-producing machines. Nuclear emergencies involve special nuclear materials (isotopes of uranium and plutonium) that can undergo fission. There are many radioactive materials that could be involved in a radiological incident, but there are only a few special nuclear materials that undergo fission.
Nuclear emergencies can occur when a nuclear power plant releases its nuclear fission products, through nuclear detonations as with an improvised nuclear device (IND) or a nuclear weapon. A nuclear weapon is likely to have been launched by a nation-state. An IND is likely to be detonated by a terrorist organization. In both cases, the nuclear detonation is accompanied by massive amounts of blast, thermal and radiation damage, and may also be accompanied by nuclear fallout. A nuclear detonation is unlikely at a United States nuclear power plant.
Responding to a Radiological or Nuclear Emergency
For an RDD or nuclear detonation, the first response is clear and critical — GET INSIDE, STAY INSIDE AND STAY TUNED. For an RDD, taking shelter keeps you protected from radioactive contamination, the primary radiological hazard. For a nuclear detonation, taking shelter protects you from potentially lethal levels of radiation from nuclear fallout.
Studies indicate that depending on the population of the affected area, hundreds to hundreds of thousands of lives can be saved by taking shelter for 12 to 24 hours after a nuclear detonation. Even first responders should take immediate shelter and await guidance about when and where lifesaving response activities are less dangerous and most effective.
Authorities will use every means possible to get messages out about what to do next. A phased evacuation will be conducted when conditions outside are better known and community reception centers are set up as places to go to for help.