The Forecast: About three million Americans live within a ten-mile radius of one of the nation’s 104 operating nuclear power plants. While the U.S. has never had a full-blown meltdown, there have been half a dozen close calls. And the problems at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan following the March earthquake have experts like David Lochbaum, chief nuclear watchdog at the Union of Concerned Scientists, spooked—especially since 23 American plants share the same venting and cooling designs as Fukushima.
Stats: 100—the U.S. legal limit of millirems (units of radiation exposure) nuclear-power plants can expose the public to each year. 2,000—the projected number of millirems within an 18-mile radius of Fukushima Daiichi one year after the accident. 24—miles the 38-year-old Indian Point power plant sits from Manhattan.
Worst-Case Scenario: Stuck inside the ten-mile emergency zone during a meltdown. If you’re forced to wait out a nuclear accident, close all vents and head to the basement. If you think you’ve been contaminated, strip, put your clothes in a plastic bag outside, shower, and call authorities.
Smart Play: Run. Radiation exposure decreases drastically the farther you get from the source. Moving even a few miles away can significantly reduce your exposure. Once you’re more than 50 miles from a meltdown, you’re probably safe.
More Likely Scenario: Chemical Spill
What: Leaks from flipped tanker trucks or accidents at processing plants or on oil rigs. According to the National Response Center, there were more than 30,000 chemical and biological incidents in 2010.
Strategy: Get to the highest floor you can to avoid fumes. Turn off all fans, heaters, and air conditioning. Seal all doors and windows tightly with duct tape.