Contamination and Radiation
The term “contamination” means, quite simply, radioactive material is where it is not supposed to be. Food, water, or air is considered contaminated if it contains more or different types of radioactive material than would be normally present.

Our bodies, for example, contain very small amounts of the radioactive elements potassium 40, carbon 14 and tritium. However, we are not considered to be contaminated because these elements exist within us naturally.

On the other hand, the presence of strontium 90 (a possible byproduct of a nuclear-power plant accident) in food, air, or water may be indicative of contamination.

“Radiation” refers to the particles and waves given off by radioactive material. The radiation given off by contaminants could be considered harmful if the levels are high enough and the exposure lasts long enough.

Nuclear Emergency Terms

If the emergency in Berrien County is due to an accident at the Cook Nuclear Plant, there are four terms that will be used to describe the situation. They are listed below in order of their importance with number 1 being the least serious and number 4 being the most serious.

Because of the many safeguards built into the Cook Nuclear Plant, chances of a serious incident requiring you to seek shelter or evacuate are very slim. In most cases, evacuation is ordered as a safety measure before any danger can come to you or your family. Federal law, however, requires that the public be told what to do in case there is a significant release of radioactive material from the Cook Nuclear Plant. Keep this Emergency Information handy by bookmarking it or printing it out. Become familiar with its contents.

Remember, the early warning sirens will sound if shelter or evacuation is necessary (except for monthly tests). When the sirens sound, listen to a tv or radio station for emergency information.

Sometimes you may hear news about a drill or an exercise involving the Cook Nuclear Plant. That's because federal, state, county and plant officials are required by law to participate regularly in drills and exercises so they are prepared in the case of a real emergency.

  1. Unusual Event:
    A minor problem that varies from normal or routine operations. No release of radioactive material is expected. Federal, state and county officials will be notified, but you will not have to do anything.
  2. Alert:
    An abnormal plant condition that could result in a small release of radioactive material inside the plant. This is still considered a minor event. Federal, state and county officials will be asked to stand by. It is not likely you will have to do anything, but you should stay tuned to area TV and radio stations for more information.
  3. Site Area Emergency:
    A more serious situation that could result in the release of radioactive material around the plant site. All federal, state and county officials will be ready to help if needed. Protective measures may be required of the public in a limited area near the plant site boundary. If so, the sirens may sound and you will be told by area TV and radio stations if shelter or evacuation is necessary.
  4. General Emergency:
    This is the most serious situation at the plant. It could result in the release of a large amount of radioactive material outside the plant site boundary. All federal, state and county officials will provide help as needed. Protective measures may be required of the public as far as 10 miles from the plant. The sirens will sound and you will be told by area TV and radio stations if shelter or evacuation is necessary.

If you have questions or comments about anything in this part of the site, need more information about emergency planning, or want copies of the Emergency Planning Calendar, call or write either of the offices below.

Cook Energy Information Center
One Cook Place
Bridgman, Michigan 49106
1-800-548-2555

Berrien County Emergency Management
Division of Berrien County Sheriff's Office
919 Port Street
St. Joseph, Michigan 49085
(269) 983-7141 Ext. 7215

This Emergency Information was prepared by American Electric Power in cooperation with the Berrien County Emergency
Management Office and the Emergency Management Division of the Michigan Department of State Police.