Europe is ill-prepared for a Fukushima-level accident

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#802
4465
23/04/2015
Article

Nuclear Transparency Watch (NTW), composed of activists and experts from across the European continent, has released the results of a year-long investigation into the preparedness of European governments and nuclear utilities for a nuclear accident. The study collected information on Emergency Preparedness and Response (EP&R) measures in 10 EU countries.

Michèle Rivasi, chair of NTW and Member of the European Parliament, said:

"The disaster of Fukushima has shed light on a number of very serious dysfunctions: in one of the evacuated city, Futaba, patients of the hospital have been left on their own for three days because the medical staff had run away. The panic made all plans useless, despite the famous "Japanese discipline". Besides the unforeseeable reactions (which will lead in any way to chaos), the theoretical plans revealed totally inefficient. There are numerous shocking facts. Some patients were transported to places without any care facilities and the evacuation zone was ill defined and too small (it jumped arbitrarily from 2km to 3km and then to 10 and 20km, whereas the US authorities ordered their expats to leave from the 80km zone)."

Despite the Fukushima experience, EP&R measures in Europe vary considerably and are generally inadequate. The European Commission and European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group initiated a process of stress tests for all operating nuclear power plants in Europe in the aftermath of Fukushima, but this process did not include off-site EP&R. Later attempts by the European Commission to take action on this issue seem to have come to a virtual halt. EP&R plans in Europe are mostly based on INES Level 5 nuclear accidents and they generally cannot cope with an INES 7 accident, which is the level of the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents.

Specific problems include:

Emergency drills – Many regional and local authorities are not properly prepared for a nuclear accident. Sufficient dedicated staff, accurate evacuation plans and full scope exercises involving the local population are missing. Lessons learned from exercises and drills are not taken into account in new versions of plans, nor are they communicated to stakeholders.

Updating plans – The report notes inadequate updating of EP&R plans regarding spatial changes (new residential neighborhoods, medical centers, schools, roads, etc.) and recent changes in technology (internet, mobile phones, new social media, etc.). EP&R plans inadequately address cross-border issues and the multi-lingual, multi-national and multi-cultural character of contemporary European societies.

Communication – Even during exercises and drills, the communication and notification lines for responsible institutions exhibit deficiencies. Contact details of involved personnel are sometimes wrong or out-dated. Some concerned administration services do not communicate between themselves, and for others, their communication is inadequate or delayed, or even both.

For example, in Germany, the crisis teams of the Federal Ministry for the Environment and the federal states Environmental Ministries failed in a communication exercise in September 2014. The outcomes show that more than one million inhabitants would have been affected by radioactive releases before any public warning by the authorities and some regions would have received instructions (to close the windows, doors, etc.) five hours too late. How are the communication lines supposed to work between two neighboring countries if it is so chaotic already on a national level?

Distribution of iodine tablets – The heterogeneity of measures in different countries
(like the distribution of iodine, evacuation perimeters and zoning) is a crucial transboundary issue.

As an example, in Austria and Luxembourg, iodine tablets can be collected in any pharmacy to be stored at home in the whole territory.

In the Czech Republic, iodine tablets are pre-distributed and stored in houses only in an emergency zone up to 13 km around the Temelín NPP and 20 km around the Dukovany NPP. Today, not all parts of the population in the emergency zone have iodine tablets.

In Belgium and France, iodine tablet pre-distribution zones are established within 20 km and 10 km around the nuclear power plants respectively. For residents living outside the pre-distribution zone, there are centralized stocks, which need to be distributed after the nuclear accident happens.

In Germany, iodine tablets have to be collected by the public itself after the accident. The question is how will the iodine tablets reach the affected population in time?

In Japan, stocks existed locally before the Fukushima disaster. But given the fact that the authorities failed to give appropriate instructions to the public, iodine tablets could be distributed only for a very small number of residents in the area surrounding the damaged plant.

Food standards – There is a need for clarification of food standards and their harmonization especially in the post-accident context. There are several different food standards imposing radioactivity limits per mass or volume. A repetition of the chaos in food standards after the Fukushima catastrophe has to be prevented at all cost.

NTW calls for systematic involvement of civil society in the development of EP&R plans. NTW's assessment makes it clear that the usual top-down approach in EP&R should be changed and that local populations and interested civil society organisations should be actively involved and supported in this participation.

 

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