Nuclear Power Plants 

North Carolina has four nuclear power plants that serve the state. A major part of the state’s population lives or works near one of these nuclear plants. Residents near these plants should be aware and prepared in case something were to happen at one of these plants. Nuclear power plants use the heat created from nuclear fission to change water to steam. This steam powers generators to make electricity. 

The operation of these plants is closely regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Yet, incidents can occur. An incident could result in a release of radiation that could affect the health and safety of the public living near the nuclear power plant.

Local and state governments, federal agencies, and the electric utilities have emergency response plans in case of a nuclear power plant incident. The plans define two “emergency planning zones.” One zone covers an area within a 10-mile radius of the plant. This 10-mile area is where people could be harmed by direct radiation exposure. The second zone covers a broader 50-mile radius – where radioactive materials could contaminate water supplies, food crops and livestock.

If you live in the 10-mile zone around a plant, it's important that you know which lettered or numbered zone you are in, should protective actions be required during an emergency.  If evacuations are needed, they would be ordered using these zones.  Residents living in these 10-mile zones should receive an annual safety information from Duke Energy.  The safety information is also available online. You may hear occasional tests of outdoor alert sirens in these areas.

NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS Location Counties in 10-mile Emergency Planning Zone
Brunswick Nuclear Plant Safety Information Southport Brunswick, New Hanover
Harris Nuclear Plant Safety Information New Hill Wake, Chatham, Harnett, Lee
McGuire Nuclear Station Safety Information  Huntersville Mecklenburg, Cabarrus, Catawba, Gaston, Lincoln, Iredell
Catawba Nuclear Station Safety Information York, SC York SC, Mecklenburg NC

The potential danger from an incident at a nuclear power plant is contact with radiation. This contact could come from the release of radioactive material from the plant into the environment, usually described as a plume (cloud-like formation) of radioactive gases and particles. The major dangers are radiation exposure to the body from the cloud and particles deposited on the ground, breathing in of radioactive materials and eating of radioactive materials.

During a nuclear release incident it is important to stay away from radioactive material if possible. You can do this many different ways:

  1. Prevent exposure by going to a place with no radioactive material, such as indoors.
  2. Stop exposure to radioactive material on hair, skin and clothing by washing it off with clean water.
  3. Radioactive material that is breathed in or swallowed can be gotten rid of when the material stops giving off radiation or when your body removes it.
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Before a Nuclear Power Plant Emergency

The following are things you can do to protect yourself, your family and your property from the effects of a nuclear power plant emergency:

  • Build an emergency supply kit, which includes food that won’t go bad or expire, water, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, extra flashlights and batteries. You should add plastic sheeting, duct tape and scissors to the kit.
  • Make a family emergency plan. Your family may not be together when an emergency strikes. It is good to know how you will contact one another, how you will get back together, and what you will do in case of an emergency.
  • Get public emergency information materials from the power company that runs your local nuclear power plant or your local emergency services office. If you live within 10 miles of the power plant, you should receive the materials yearly from the power company or your state or local government.

During a Nuclear Power Plant Emergency

Local authorities would sound warning sirens and announce safety instructions through the Emergency Alert System (EAS) on local television and radio stations if an accident at a nuclear power plant happened. Listen to orders from local officials. They will tell you the best way to stay safe. You may be told to leave or stay indoors.

There are four primary ways to limit the amount of radiation you are exposed to:

Shielding – put as many layers as possible between you and the radioactive material.

  • If instructed to stay indoors, take cover immediately. Go as far below ground as possible. Any shield or shelter will help protect you from the immediate exposure.
  • Close windows and doors. Turn off air conditioners, heaters or other airing systems.

Distance – the farther away you are away from the blast and the fallout, the lower your exposure.

  • Some areas may be told to leave. Follow orders from local officials.
  • If you are told to leave, keep car windows and vents closed. Use re-circulating air.

Time - decreasing time spent exposed will also lower your risk.

Potassium Iodide – if there is a significant radiation threat, health care authorities may or may not tell you to take potassium iodide. Think about keeping potassium iodide in your emergency kit. Learn what the correct doses are for each of your family members.

After a Nuclear Power Plant Emergency

After a nuclear power plant emergency, local authorities will provide safety orders through the Emergency Alert System (EAS) on local television and radio stations and through local news media. Listen to orders from local officials. They will tell you the best way to stay safe. You may be told to leave or stay indoors.

  • Go to your designated public shelter or reception center if you have been told to leave.
  • Act quickly if you have come in to contact with or have been exposed to dangerous radiation.
  • Follow decontamination directions from local authorities. You may be told to take a thorough shower.
  • Change your clothes and shoes. Put exposed clothing in a plastic bag. Seal it and place it out of the way.
  • Seek medical treatment for unusual symptoms, such as nausea, as soon as possible.
  • Help neighbors who may need special help – infants, elderly people and people with access and functional needs. People who care for them or who have large families may need extra help in emergency situations.
  • Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
  • Keep food in covered containers or in the refrigerator. Food not previously covered should be washed before being put in to containers.

More Information

There are three types of radiation:

  • Alpha – the least penetrating, can be stopped by a piece of paper.
  • Beta – can be stopped by a thin piece of aluminum.
  • Gamma – can be stopped by lead, water or concrete.

More information on nuclear safety and protection from radiation can be found at:

Listen to Local Officials

Learn about the emergency plans that have been made in your area by your state and local government. In any emergency, always listen to the orders given by local emergency management officials.