Energy in Motion
Energy in Motion - Radiological Emergency Preparedness in Texas
Are Texans experiencing a growing problem with mutant roosters? Is radiation exposure to blame? The picture to the right suggests these beasts are capable of growing to the height of a grown man and the width of a Volkswagen Beetle (Google Images, 2017). Could something as sinister as radiation be at fault? One may argue theories and beliefs that support this notion, but Google and Photoshop are generally the chief culprits. Radiation is simply energy in motion, and people experience daily exposure to radiation through earth, air, food, and water.
Numerous benefits are associated with energy produced through radioactive materials. Nuclear power is a relatively environmentally friendly source of power because of the lack of greenhouse gases produced during production of power. In medicine, radiation treatments save thousands of lives per year, and x-ray machines allow doctors and dentist to identify health issues in a noninvasive manner. Radiological materials also have important applications in agriculture, industry, scientific research, defense, and academia.
It is important to understand that radiation is present in our everyday environment. Some types are harmful to human health and others are not. There are two different types of radiation, categorized by how matter is affected: non-ionizing radiation and ionizing radiation. Non-ionizing radiation "deposits energy in the materials through which it passes, but does not have sufficient energy to break molecular bonds or remove electrons from atoms" (United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 2014). Non-ionizing radiation takes form in visible light, microwaves, radio waves, radar, and heat exchanges. Low doses or naturally occurring non-ionizing radiation is generally harmless to living organisms. The alternate side of the radiation spectrum is ionizing radiation, which includes ultraviolet radiation, x-rays, and gamma rays. In contrast to non-ionizing radiation, ionizing radiation is capable of depositing enough energy to break molecular bonds and displace electrons from atoms (United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 2014).
In Texas, radiation and radioactive materials are abundant throughout the state. Texas is home to two nuclear power plants, two nuclear research reactors, a nuclear weapons assembly and maintenance facility, and a radiological waste storage site. Radioactive waste shipments, both industrial and medical, are also safely transported though Texas on a regular basis.
The Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) and many state, local, and federal agencies are charged with ensuring the health and safety of Texans, which is of utmost importance when it comes to radiation related emergencies and emergency preparedness. In addition to managing these risks, TDEM is charged with carrying out a comprehensive all-hazard emergency management program for the state and assisting cities, counties, and state agencies in planning and implementing their emergency management programs. This includes planning for and responding to radiological events and incidents at fixed nuclear facilities, along transportation routes, in industrial applications, and against malicious acts.
In the preparedness effort to combat radiation related events, TDEM works closely with each fixed nuclear power facility, the Pantex weapons facility, local jurisdictions, the Texas Department of State Health Service's (DSHS), FEMA Region VI's Radiological Emergency Preparedness (REP) Program, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Region IV, and the Department of Energy. To ensure Texans are prepared to respond to and recover from a radiological emergency, TDEM provides up-to-date plans for different radiation incident scenarios. The division also participates in realistic and thorough exercises, including annual nuclear power plant exercises. Finally, relevant training is available statewide in radiological emergency preparedness, including the FEMA IS-3: Radiological Emergency Management and the AWR140: Introduction to Radiological/Nuclear WMD Operations Course.
Should there ever be a radiological incident, it is possible for citizens and first responders in the affected area to avoid excessive exposure to radiation by following a simple protection principle: time, distance, and shielding. According to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), "Time, distance, and shielding measures minimize your exposure to radiation in much the same way as they would to protect you against overexposure to the sun" (United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 2014). First, limiting one's exposure time to the source is the primary method of reducing radiation dosage. Next, one should move away from a radiation source as quickly as possible. Increasing the distance from a radiation source greatly decreases exposure risk. Finally, one should use shielding, such as personal protective gear, or a barrier like a building or wall between a source and their position. Proper shielding will either eliminate or greatly reduce contamination and exposure potential.
In conclusion, it is important to remember radiation is simply energy in motion. Many myths and misconceptions revolve around radiation, but in truth, radiation and radiological materials are abundant and have many benefits. The Texas Division of Emergency Management, local governments, state partners, federal agencies, and industry experts work together to ensure Texans are prepared to respond to radiation emergencies and are equipped to ensure the health and safety of Texas citizens.
Technological Hazards Unit Supervisor
Texas Division of Emergency Management
Google Images. (2017). Retrieved July 13, 2017, from https://www.google.com/search?q=radiation+chicken&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwixuZrL14bVAhWs5oMKHdVhC08Q_AUICigB&biw=1920&bih=984#imgrc=qJaMPRLM6IDf5M:
United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission. (2014, October 23). Minimize Your Exposure. Retrieved July 16, 2017, from https://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/radiation/protects-you/protection-principles.html
United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission. (2014, October 17). Radiation Basics. Retrieved July 13, 2017, from U.S.NRC: https://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/radiation/health-effects/radiation-basics.html