The events of the Ukraine war show how quickly the risk of a nuclear accident can increase. However, only a few know what to consider in this case.
Frankfurt – Almost half of the people in Germany trust that the state will protect them in the event of a nuclear emergency – but very few know how the population should behave in such an incident. This is the result of a study presented by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV) and the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) in Berlin.
The events in the Ukraine war surrounding the nuclear power plant in Zaporizhia show how quickly the risk of a nuclear threat can increase. “It is our duty to inform the population as best we can about risks and protective measures and to carry out educational work,” said Christian Kühn, Parliamentary State Secretary in the BMUV. “Where there is a lack of knowledge, we have to close the gaps,” says Kühn.
Emergency plan for Germany: The risk of a nuclear accident is ever more present
BfS President Inge Paulini also reported: “We received many questions in the first few weeks of the war.” People wanted to know “what protective measures would have to be taken in Germany in the event of an incident in Ukraine.” While, according to the study, 63 percent of those surveyed are worried about possible radioactive contamination from nuclear accidents, only around 20 percent know what the population can do to protect themselves.
There are different types of emergencies where radioactive material can be released into the environment. These are described in “emergency scenarios” through which the implementation of quick measures is coordinated.
Possible nuclear accident in Germany: International cooperation is necessary
Since radiation does not stop at national borders, according to the BfS, Germany cooperates with countries in Europe and worldwide in radiological emergency protection at international level. Radiation protection institutions continuously monitor the radiological pollution of the environment, i.e. even without an accident or current risk situation. In emergencies, the measurements are intensified and supplemented by mobile measuring systems on the ground or in the air.
The probability of a hazard in Germany is lower due to the distance, but cannot be ruled out, as the example of Chernobyl in 1986 showed. The accident happened more than 1000 kilometers away from German territory. However, depending on weather conditions and air currents, clouds of radioactive radiation can cover large distances and transport the radiation to distant areas.
Emergency plan for Germany: What is the risk in a nuclear accident and what protects?
If radioactive substances get into the environment, they can be inhaled by people or ingested with food. In addition, as they decay, they emit ionizing radiation that can destroy or alter body cells. In consultation with the federal government, the civil protection of the federal states is therefore introducing damage-limiting measures to protect health. These can be, for example:
- stay in closed rooms
- Leaving the expected danger area
- Taking tablets with stable iodine
- other measures, such as the recommendation not to eat radioactively contaminated food
Disaster control in Germany: longer-term measures after a nuclear accident
After a radioactive cloud has cleared, radioactive materials remain in the soil and food. According to information from the BfS, further steps from the catalog of measures may then be taken, such as removing topsoil or decontaminating surfaces with high-pressure cleaners.
In addition, the population can take initial protective measures themselves. The BfS recommends the following behavior in the event that radioactivity has been released:
- Stay in the building: Radioactive substances are transported through the air and are deposited on surfaces. Buildings therefore largely protect against the inhalation of radioactive substances and thus against the radiation they emit.
- If possible, stay in windowless cellars: depending on which area of the house you are in, the level of protection from radiation from radioactive substances varies. The best shielding is in interior rooms or basements. Walls and the surrounding soil protect against penetrating radiation.
- Keep windows and doors closed and turn off air conditioning and ventilation systems. Any exchange of air should be avoided if possible, so that as few radioactive substances as possible get into the building.
- If staying outdoors cannot be avoided, it can be assumed that clothing and skin came into contact with radioactive substances. Clothing and shoes should therefore be removed before entering the house or immediately after entering the building and stowed in plastic bags. When washing the skin, hands and head as well as all other uncovered parts of the body should first be cleaned under running water. Only then should you take a shower.
If possible, the radio should remain switched on so that further instructions from the authorities can be implemented immediately. Information on the current situation can be obtained via the Internet, radio and, for example, loudspeaker announcements from the local authorities.
- Avoid calling the fire brigade and police. The emergency services and their telephone lines are already under a lot of strain in an emergency.
- The instructions of the local emergency services, for example in the case of evacuation measures, must be followed. These are done to protect the population and should be implemented immediately
- Fruit and vegetables from the garden can be contaminated by radioactive substances. It should therefore not be harvested and consumed. Milk from animals that graze outdoors is also taboo.
- Tap water, on the other hand, is constantly monitored and is not fed into the drinking water supply if it is radioactive.