Critical Incident Stress Management 5 pages

CISM in the Event of a Terrorist Attack on a Nuclear Facility

This research explores the impact of mental stresses experience by workers at a nuclear power plant during and after a critical incident. Concerns over critical incidents at nuclear facilities has caused public fear that was exasperated during the Three Mile Island incident. The dangers of nuclear power and radiation exposure are embedded in modern culture and have been since the height of the Cold War. Another associated fear has been the possibility of terrorists using a nuclear facility as a target. The World Trade Tower bombings exasperated these fears when it was realized that such an attack was possible right in everyone’s backyard.

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A critical incident involving a nuclear power facility is different from a similar critical incident that does not involve a nuclear plant. Core meltdown is the greatest fear surrounding nuclear power plant accidents. The recent major earthquakes in Japan demonstrate to the world that a disaster at a nuclear power plant is as bad as they feared. Not only does one have to deal with the effects of the initial disaster, radiation can be released for a long time in can spread over a wide area. Those who are closest to the area are of greatest danger, but the damage can be widespread. This makes the mission disaster were difficult to manage because a can eventually spread and involve a much wider scope.

The concerns of workers and first responders in an incident involving terrorism is not only for their own safety, but a sense of responsibility to get the situation under control so that it does not affect the general community, including their own family and friends. They may feel a sense of a need to protect their loved ones from the same dangers that they face during a critical incident. Following will examine a possible scenario involving a critical incident of the nuclear power plant.

Description of event

In this scenario, the agent of the critical incident will be a commercial jet or other large scale bomb. The method of delivery of the agent will be similar to that used in the World Trade Tower bombings where a commercial jet is flown into the main reactor causing an immediate meltdown of the core. In this scenario to spend for fuel will also be spilled onto the site. The power plant is the source of the radiation in the explosion is a means to spread lethal doses of radiation over a wide area. In this case the explosion is the vector of transmission of lethal radiation.

The environment during the event will involve a sunny day with light winds. Communication systems will be affected in the immediate area due to the explosion and interruptions in the lines. It will be difficult for first responders and workers to communicate using hardwired methods. However, radios and cell phones will be functioning. Interruption of the electrical power in the area will create additional concerns do to the inability to pump water to the scene.

Another concern is how much or when to tell the public and how do these fears about the incident. Local and county officials will be immediately notified of the incident so that they can make the proper decisions regarding how to manage public information. One of the difficulties in this incident will be keeping unnecessary personnel away from the site in limiting radiation exposure to curious onlookers. The public will have to be informed so that citizens can take as many measures as possible to protect themselves from the effects of widespread radiation leakage. Preventing further damage will be a key concern of the workers and first responders.

The social context of the accident will involve likely hostilities from groups that are opposed to nuclear power. It will be important to handle communication with the public in a way that do not spawn public outcry. One of the most important social issues will be preventing widespread panic and fear and those who may be affected by the radiation. A terrorist attack on a nuclear power facility is not only an environmental disaster; it is a public relations nightmare. It will be important to make certain that untrue or exaggerated information does not leak and exacerbate the situation.

Literature Review of Similar Incident

Fortunately, there are few incidents to compare to the hypothetical situation presented. In the past, there been several notable nuclear incidents. One of them is the Three-Mile Island incident, another is the Chernobyl incident, in the most recent and perhaps most relevant is the nuclear disasters that resulted from massive earthquakes in Japan. Let us now examine the effects of the disaster on the population physically, mentally, emotionally and to the degree which it can be discovered, spiritually.

The first few moments of the incident were most critical and the fear that it created, not only locally, but on a global basis is well documented by the media. Wide-scale concern over how far and how fast the radiation would spread created global fears. The media’s initial response was to seek out credible information to convey to the public. The purpose was to prevent irrational fear and panic from setting in.

The public reacted with fear in response to the initial disaster. Japanese culture dictates order in the society responded by listening to officials in doing what was asked of them. At present, no academic studies could be located that measured the response of the victims to the disaster. This disaster did not happen that long ago and it is probable that studies are still being conducted. However, the emotional response of the public can be seen in the increased fear and concern over the safety of nuclear power in demands for tougher regulation. This disaster has created a lasting increased fear over nuclear power and its safety, potentially and light of the additional increased potential for the terrorist attack.

Intervention and Obstacles

Workers and first responders who voluntarily entered the area with the highest potential for radiation exposure were heralded as heroes by the world. Several members of the scientific community also fall into this category. Nearly 180 workers in numerous first responders chose to stay in the area in an attempt to help avert disaster for the rest of the population (Jones, 2011). Their families were also recognized for the sacrifices of their loved ones.

At present, no studies that were conducted on workers involved in the Japanese nuclear disaster, but studies have been conducted on emotional issues after the Three Mile Island incident. Hatch, Wallenstein, & Beyea, (1991) conducted a study regarding the link between stress in the development or progression of cancer. The study involved a community around the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant stress levels were measured through a self reported survey of residents near the plant. It was found that the stress levels after the incident increased in proportion to proximity to the plant. It was found that long-term cancer rates increased in association with acts in the heat of the plant, but the connection to stress was tainted by the inability to isolate stresses a single causal factor.

Barnett (2007) found that the sudden trauma of evacuation, long-term effects of being a refugee, disruption of social networks, illness, separation from families, and uncertainty about the long-term effects on the future lead to increased health problems among Chernobyl nuclear disaster victims. The same factors may also be relevant for workers in for responders who are separated from their normal lives as well. There have been few studies conducted that pertain to the emotional and mental effects associated with being in the area of a nuclear disaster.

Intervention and Obstacles

One of the most difficult factors involved in a nuclear incident is that it is impossible for workers to enter the immediate area quickly. Safety concerns prevent immediate intervention from mental health professionals. It may be some time before first responders and workers can receive the benefits of the CISM plan. This is the key obstacle faced in this type of emergency. The best that can be done in this situation is to do everything possible to prepare first responders and workers about the emotional and mental obstacles that they may face in the event of a disaster. Services should be provided as soon as feasible after the disaster, but the focus of the plan did this case, should be on prevention rather than intervention.

The nature of the first responders in the Japanese earthquake also makes intervention difficult. There were many different types of first responders from many different agencies. There were firefighters and emergency personnel, workers, scientist, military personnel, and many others. This is a key obstacle faced by intervention planners. They must address the needs of people involved in many different agencies, and those agencies may or may not have their own CISM strategies. Warden each and the various agencies will be a key obstacle in developing an appropriate interventions strategy.

Lessons Learned

Many lessons were learned from the Japanese earthquake that have resulted in changes in nuclear facilities around the world. These policies and strategies will continue to be examined and rewritten many years into the future. One of the key lessons learned was about how to achieve greater interagency cooperation in the development policies in this regards (NEI, 2011). (IAEA, 2011). At present, policies of concentrated on preventing in managing the physical disaster in very little attention. Caring for mental and emotional issues is not a consideration in the plans at this time. However, this issue needs to be addressed in order to prevent long-term consequences of the disaster that reach far beyond the initial event.


Little formal research has been conducted regarding the emotional impact of a critical incident involving a nuclear facility. The literature revealed that the emotional impact is greater the closer the person is to the incident. Taking this into consideration, it could be expected that first responders and those working within the plant would have the greatest potential for developing emotional problems associated with the disaster. This information suggests that providing CISM becomes more crucial the closer the responder is to the disaster. This will allow the development of a prioritized list for treating those who are involved in the disaster.


Barnett, L. (2007). Psychological effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Medicine, Conflict, and Survival. 23 (1), 2007.

Hatch, M., Wallenstein, S. & Beyea, J. et al. (1991). Cancer rates after the Three Mile Island nuclear accident and proximity of residence to the plant. Am J. Public Health. 81(6): 719 — 724.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) (2011). Fukishima Nuclear Accident Update Log. Retrieved from

Jones, B. (2011, March). Praise for ‘heroes’ working to avert nuclear catastrophe. March 16, 2011. CNN World. Retrieved from

Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). (2011). Industry Actions: Incorporating Lessons from Japan. Nuclear Energy Institute. Retrieved from

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