The Commonwealth of Virginia is home to two nuclear power stations, North Anna (Louisa County) and Surry (Surry County). Both power stations are operated by Dominion Energy.
What is radiation? (source: Dominion Energy)
Radiation has always been a part of our natural environment. We are constantly exposed to radiation from the sun and outer space, and to naturally occurring radioactive materials present in the earth, in the buildings we live and work in, and in the food and water we consume. Learn more about radiation and the various sources of radiation.
Nuclear power as a source of radiation (source: Dominion Energy)
The fission process that takes place in a nuclear power station is a source of man-made radiation, although in normal operations the amount reaching the environment is so small as to be practically insignificant.
The average person receives approximately 350 millirem (see “Definitions”, below) of radiation per year from natural and man-made sources. In comparison, a person living within 10 miles of a nuclear generating station receives less than one additional millirem of radiation each year from the station.
Nuclear power stations are designed and built to prevent radioactivity from reaching the environment, both during normal operation and in the event of an accident. These intensive efforts by the industry have worked well in the more than 30 years of nuclear power production in this country, without a single radiation-related death or serious injury involving a member of the public having ever been recorded. The likelihood of such an occurrence in the future is extremely small.
The effect radiation from any source has on us depends upon the type and force of the rays and particles and the amount of exposure to our bodies. Therefore, the protective actions described here are important to remember in the event of an emergency.
Radiation Protection (source: Dominion Energy)
Although you cannot see or smell radiation, it can be detected, accurately and easily, with the aid of instruments designed for that purpose. Trained technicians using these instruments monitor radiation in and around our nuclear power stations at all times.
Should a nuclear incident occur, this monitoring will be increased to obtain accurate information for all areas that might be affected. State health officials will evaluate this information and advise what actions should be taken.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has defined four classes of emergencies for nuclear power stations:
Notifications of Unusual Events: A minor problem has taken place. No release of radioactive matter is expected. Federal, state and city/county officials will be kept informed.
Alert: A minor problem has occurred. Small amounts of radioactive matter could be released inside the station. All state and local officials will be informed and will be asked to stand by. It is not likely that the public will have to do anything.
Site Area Emergency: A more serious problem has occurred. Small amounts of radioactive matter could be released into the area right around the station. If the public needs to be alerted, sirens will be sounded. Turn to your Emergency Alert System (EAS) radio or television stations for more information. All appropriate officials will be informed and ready to help you if needed.
General Emergency: This is the most serious kind of problem. Radioactive matter could be released outside the station site. The public may have to be protected. The sirens will be sounded to alert the public of the problem. Turn to EAS radio or television stations for information on actions that may need to be taken. Officials will be fully informed and will tell the public what to do.
Definitions(source: Dominion Energy)
Background radiation is the radioactivity that occurs naturally in our environment. The level of background radiation in the mid-Atlantic region is about 100 millirem per year.
Millirem is a unit used to measure radiation dosage. It is 1/1000 of a rem, (Roentgen Equivalent Man) which measures the health effect of low levels of ionizing radiation on the human body.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission is the federal agency responsible for the regulation and inspection of nuclear power stations to assure safety.
Radiation is energy given off in the form of waves or particles. The term “radiation” is broad and includes ordinary sunlight and radio waves, but more often it is used to mean “ionizing” radiation. Ionizing radiation can produce charged particles in materials that it strikes, including living matter. The most common types of ionizing radiation are alpha, beta and gamma.
Alpha radiation is the least penetrating type. It can be stopped with a shield equivalent to a sheet of paper.
Beta radiation is emitted from the nucleus of an atom during fission. Beta radiation consists of electrons that can be stopped by the equivalent of thin cardboard.
Gamma radiation is electro-magnetic waves emitted from the nucleus of an atom and is essentially the same as X-rays. It can be stopped by heavy shielding such as concrete or lead.
U.S. nuclear power stations, including Dominion Energy’s stations, are built to specific seismic standards for their regions. Safety systems designed to those standards would direct operators to shut down the reactors in the event of a major earthquake such as the one that struck Japan in the spring of 2011. Additional information is available from the Nuclear Energy Institute.