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JAPANESE DISASTER POINTS TO NEED FOR PUBLIC PROTECTION OVERHAUL SAYS NUCLEAR FREE COUNCILS

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In the aftermath of the Tokai nuclear plant disaster which hit Japan last Thursday Nuclear Free Local Authorities (...
In the aftermath of the Tokai nuclear plant disaster which hit Japan last Thursday Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLAs) again called for a review of UK nuclear emergency planning.

The accident at the Tokai Plant located in a heavily built up area, involved the implementation of evacuation of nearby households, sheltering from radioactive fall out of a 310,000 population in a 10km radius area, schools and factory closures, contaminated food controls, motor traffic restrictions, rail cancellations, and mass screening of thousands of people to check for contamination. Japan's government chief cabinet secretary last Thursday described the nuclear accident at the Tokai uranium processing plant as an '...unprecedented crisis of the nation.'

Commenting on the Tokai accident, an NFLA spokesman said:

'The scale of the emergency response required in Japan shows current UK nuclear site emergency planning is inadequate.

In the UK detailed emergency planning is only required for at most a few kilometers around nuclear sites. The precise area is determined between a plant operator and the safety regulator, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). They decide what they think is a 'reasonably foreseeable' nuclear accident. But this approach is deeply flawed. The consequences of real nuclear accidents are far more extensive than those which the nuclear industry and the HSE are capable of foreseeing. We need an approach to emergency planning grounded on experience, not theory.'

Before the Tokai disaster NFLAs argued for more extensive emergency planning in response to a UK Health and Safety Commission (HSC) consultation earlier this year. The HSC consulted local authorities on draft Radiation (Emergency Preparedness and Public Information) Regulations (REPPIR) for the implementation of European requirements for responding to radiological emergencies.

NFLAs criticised the draft REPPIR for being too weak because:

* plans must be confined to 'reasonably foreseeable radiation emergencies' and not unpredictable, or merely possible emergencies however catastrophic: yet Chernobyl was not 'reasonably foreseeable' and consequently no emergency plan is required for major nuclear accidents;

* the actual assessment of what is reasonably foreseeable is carried out principally by those who create the risk;

* the statutory definition of a radiation emergency is one where a radiation dose five times greater than the permitted maximum is predicted;

* the public to be provided with prior information (so that they may be forearmed against an emergency) are geographically defined by the concept of the 'reasonably foreseeable radiation emergency': others in a wider geographical area that might be assisted by prior information, in the event of a worse accident than is 'foreseeable', will not be advised in advance and will accordingly be less well prepared;

* nuclear transportation is excluded from the regulations;

* incorrectly, the HSC proposals breach the EU Euratom Treaty, by

exempting Ministry of Defence nuclear hazards from the regulations.

NFLAs therefore argue that:

* plans should address emergencies that are capable of causing major impacts;

* the statutory definition of a radiation emergency should be one

where a radiation dose in simple excess of the permitted maximum public dose itself is likely;

* the characterisation of the emergencies for which the plans should provide should not be left to the self-interested technocratic judgement of those who create them but should involve a strong independent element which allows for public perception and discussion of the risks to play its proper part;

* all transport operations for civil nuclear power and fuel cycle

operations and military nuclear weapons and propulsion operations should be subjected to hazard assessment. Local authorities should be involved though their representative associations in the preparations of any generic emergency transport plan and should be consulted over the need for specific local authority plans on frequently-used transport routes;

* the public to be provided with prior information should not be

confined to the area of a 'reasonably foreseeable' emergency but should include all those who could be affected;

* the HSE should confer with the Legal Service of the European

Commission which takes the view that the requirements of Directives, which provide for the protection of the public against radiation, do not exclude nuclear hazards of military origin.

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