Nuclear power plants use the heat generated from nuclear fission in a contained environment to convert water to steam, which powers generators to produce electricity. Although the construction and operation of these facilities are closely monitored and regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), accidents are possible. 

Wisconsin Emergency Management develops, plans, and conducts exercises to respond to the potential release of materials from three nuclear power plants that are within or near the state’s borders.

Wisconsin has one operating nuclear power plant, Point Beach Nuclear Plant located in Two Rivers. Two other nuclear plants that could affect areas of our state include Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant located in Welch, Minnesota and the Byron Nuclear Generating Station in Byron, Illinois.

Four Emergency Classification levels during a power plant emergency

Notification of Unusual Event

This is the lowest classification and means that a minor plant event has occurred. No radiation leak is expected and no action on your part is necessary. This level ensures the first steps for future response are being carried out, operations staff are at the ready, and the plant is handling unusual events information and decision-making.

ALERT

This is declared when there is a decrease in the level of plant safety or there is a security event can threaten site personnel or damage plant equipment. Any release of radioactive material that could occur is expected to be minimal and below limits established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guides. This level makes sure emergency personnel are ready and available to respond if the situation becomes more serious and allows offsite authorities to receive current information on plant status.

Site Area Emergency

Events are in progress or have occurred which have caused or will likely cause major plant failures that impact safety measures designed to protect the public, or involve security events with intentional damage that could lead to the likely failure of equipment to protect the public. This level ensures emergency response centers are staffed, monitoring teams are dispatched, personnel required for evacuating nearby areas are at duty stations, proper communication with offsite authorities, and government authorities are providing the public with updates.

General Emergency

This is the most serious of emergency classification levels. Events are in progress that have caused substantial reactor core damage with the potential for uncontrolled releases of radioactive materials, or security events that deny plant staff physical control of the facility. This declaration initiates predetermined protective actions for the public including: continuous dose monitoring, additional protective measures as necessitated by potential or actual releases, consultation with offsite authorities, and updates to the public by government authorities.

  • Counties who are risk may need to take protective actions. Any agricultural businesses may also need to take protective actions and products may be placed on hold until it is determined products have not been contaminated.
  • Portions of Wisconsin counties within the 10-mile Emergency Planning Zone will respond to the incident based on their plans and procedures. Those areas include portions of Kewaunee and Manitowoc Counties near the Point Beach Nuclear Plant and Pierce County near the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant.

What to do before, during and after a NUCLEAR POWER PLANT EMERGENCY

BEFORE
  • Conserve water. The best way to prepare for a drought is to conserve water. Make conserving water a part of your daily life.
  • Indoor water conservation.
    • Never pour water down the drain when there may be another use for it.
    • Fix dripping facets by replacing washers. One drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons of water a year.
    • Check all plumbing for leaks and have a plumber make repairs.
    • Retrofit all faucets by installing aerators with flow restrictors.
    • Install an instant hot water heater on your sink.
    • Insulate water pipes to reduce heat loss and prevent them from breaking.
    • Install a water softening system only when the minerals in your water would damage your pipes.
    • Choose energy and water efficient appliances.
    • Consider purchasing a low-volume toilet that uses less water than older models
      • Also consider installing a toilet displacement device to cut down the amount of water needed to flush.
    • Replace your showerhead with an ultra-low flow version.
    • Instead of using the garbage disposal, throw food in the garbage or start composting.

  • Outdoor water conservation.

    • Check your well pump periodically. If the automatic pump turns on and off while water is not in use, you may have a leak.
    • Plant native and/or drought resistant grasses, ground covers, shrubs, and trees.
    • Don’t install ornamental water features, such as fountains or ponds, unless they re-circulate water.
    • Consider rainwater barrels.
    • Install an instant hot water heater on your sink.
    • Contact your local water provider for information and assistance.
    • For lawn care:
      • Position sprinklers so water lands on the lawn and shrubs, not on paved areas.
      • Repair sprinklers that spray a fine mist
      • Check sprinkler systems regularly for proper operation
      • Raise lawn mower blade to at least three inches or to its highest level. A higher cut encourages grass roots to grow deeper and hold soil moisture.
      • Reduce lawn areas that are not used frequently.
      • Don’t over-fertilize your lawn.
      • Choose a water-efficient irrigation system, such as drip irrigation.
      • Water manually in fall and winter only if needed
      • Use mulch around trees and plants to retain moisture.
      • Invest in a weather-based irrigation controller. These devices automatically adjust the watering time and frequency based on soil moisture.
    • For pools:
      • Install a water-saving pool filter. A single back flushing with a traditional filter uses 180 to 250 gallons of water.
      • Cover pools and spas to reduce water evaporation.
  • Develop a plan for livestock. Develop an emergency plan for water and feed resources. Obtain emergency supplies of forage and grain, and possibly look at alternative
DURING
  • Always observe state and local restrictions on water use during a drought.
  • Indoor water conservation.
    • Avoid flushing the toilet unnecessarily. Dispose of tissues, insects, and other similar waste in the trash rather than the toilet.
    • Take short showers instead of baths. Turn on the water only to get wet and lathered, and then again to rinse off.
    • Avoid letting water run while brushing your teeth, washing your face or shaving.
    • Operate clothes washers and dishwashers when they are fully loaded. Use a light wash feature to use less water.
    • Hand wash dishes by filling two containers – one with soapy water and the other with rinse water containing a small amount of chlorine bleach.
    • Clean vegetables in a pan filled with water, rather than running water from the tap.
    • Avoid wasting water waiting for it to get hot. Capture it for other uses such as plant watering or heat it on the stove or in a microwave.
    • Don’t rinse dishes before placing them in the dishwasher.
    • Avoid using running water to thaw meat or other frozen food. Defrost food overnight in the refrigerator or use the defrost setting on your microwave.
  • Outdoor water conservation.
    • A heavy rain eliminates the need for watering for up to two weeks. Most of the year, lawns only need one inch of water per week.
    • Check the soil moisture levels with a soil probe, spade, or large screwdriver. You don’t need to water if the soil is still moist. If your grass springs back when you step on it, it doesn’t need water yet.
    • If your lawn needs watering, do so early in the morning or later in the evening when temperatures are cooler.
    • Water in short sessions rather than one long one. Your lawn will better absorb moisture and avoid runoff.
    • Use or broom or blower instead of a hose to clean leaves and other debris from your driveway or sidewalk.
    • Avoid leaving sprinklers or hoses unattended. A garden hose can pour out 600 gallons or more in only a few hours.
    • In extreme drought, allow lawns to die in favor of preserving trees and large shrubs.
    • Use a commercial car wash that recycles water
    • If you wash your own car, use a shut-off nozzle that can be adjusted to a fine spray.
AFTER
  • Understand how drought has affected forages, livestock, and finances. According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, plant vigor may not fully recover for five or more years if heavy grazing occurred prior to and during drought. Animal performance may be diminished, and herd size may be reduced. The financial balance sheet as well as cash flow may be impacted for five years or more.
  • Listen to officials. Once a drought is over, there may be further water conservancy guidance.

Additional Resources

National Integrated Drought Information System:

Wisconsin Department of Health Services – Drought Toolkit:

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources – Water Conservation and Efficiency: 

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources – Groundwater Levels and Aquifer Response:

National Drought Mitigation Center: