[SystemSafety] JB's advice about Fukushima (was:Re: Saying the Wrong Thing)

From: Martyn Thomas < >
Date: Sat, 30 Mar 2013 15:30:55 +0000


This is how JB came to give the advice that he did.

The Prime Minister called a meeting of the Ministerial Emergency Committee COBR. JB, attending as the GCSA, was asked to advise on whether UK citizens should be recommended to leave Japan and whether the Tokyo UK Embassy should be evacuated.

JB called a meeting of the Science Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). (SAGE's method of working is described here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/80087/sage-guidance.pdf)

SAGE met on 13,15,16,17, 18, 21, 23, 28 March and 4, 13 April. The minutes of those meetings can be found here: ww.bis.gov.uk/go-science/science-in-government/global-issues/civil-contingencies/role-of-sage

The first meeting was as follows:

>
> Minutes from SAGE update meeting 13 March 2011
>
>
> Held in 70 Whitehall at 14.30
>
>
> PRESENT
>
> Professor John Beddington, Government's Chief Scientific Advisor and
> SAGE Chair
>
> Hillary Walker (Department for Health)
> Nick Gent Health (Protection Agency)
> Peter Tallantire (Cabinet Office)
> Colin Potter (Health and Safety Executive)
>
>
> BY TELEPHONE
>
> Paul Howarth (National Nuclear Laboratory)
> Sue Ion (Independent)
> Pat Boyle (Met Office)
> Mat Hort (Met Office)
> Mike Griffiths (Rimnet)
> Elizabeth Surkovic (GO-Science)
>
>
> SECRETARIAT
>
> Chris McFee (GO-Science)
> Andy Gregory (Cabinet Office)
>
>
> AGENDA ITEM 1: WELCOME AND REVIEW OF MINUTES
>
> 1. THE CHAIR welcomed the group and thanked them for attending at
> short notice.
>
> 2. The purpose of this meeting was to provide advice to COBR with a
> reasonable worst case scenario and a most likely scenario to inform
> guidance to UK nationals in the Tokyo area.
>
>
> AGENDA ITEM 2: SITUATION UPDATE
>
> 3. There are six reactors at the Fukushima plant. It was reported that
> three of these are shut down for planned maintenance and provide no
> threat. Work is currently ongoing at the plant to mitigate the risks
> from the other three reactors.
>
> 4. A second plant (Onagawa) is reported to be experiencing similar
> issues. This plant is 70 km north of Fukushima. It is of broadly
> similar design to Fukushima and so the scenarios below are valid for
> that plant as well.
>
>
> AGENDA ITEM 3: SCENARIOS
>
> 5. The group discussed likely scenarios for the current situation in
> JAPAN.
>
>
> Most likely worst case
>
> 6. It was agreed that the most likely scenario is that current cooling
> mechanisms were likely to ensure that current emissions are relatively
> modest and will not require any additional evacuation measures other
> than those currently being undertaken by the Japanese authorities.
>
> 7. However, the group cautioned that they do not currently have good
> information about the efficiency of the cooling methods and the
> corresponding potential damage to the reactor cores. They are
> currently getting information from international organisations and web
> sites and are not getting direct information from the Japanese
> Authorities. The group agreed that there is merit in approaching the
> Japanese authorities directly to request further information.
>
> ACTION: THE CHAIR to seek further information from Japan.
>
>
> Reasonable worst case
>
> 8. The group agreed that, should the cooling mechanisms break down or
> fail, then the next scenario is likely to be an increase in pressure
> which will need to be contained leading to additional releases of
> material which will be more radioactive than those hitherto. This
> material is unlikely to go beyond the current exclusion zones already
> established (20km). The group heard that any emissions will be
> monitored in real time by the Japanese authorities.
>
> 9. The group agreed that the reasonable worst case scenario is that
> current cooling mechanisms fail, the increase in pressure cannot be
> contained and pressure build up leads to a failure of the reactor
> pressure vessel. The core material released into the containment
> vessel would rapidly heat up and react with the concrete base of the
> vessel.
>
> 10. An initial explosive reaction would occur, taking radioactive
> material up to 500 metres. Following this explosion both the height of
> the plume and the amount of the material released would decline
> rapidly. However, release of material would occur over a significantly
> longer timescale.
>
> 11. If this reasonable worst case from a nuclear perspective is
> coupled with unfavourable meteorological conditions then the
> combination is the reasonable worst case. In this situation of winds
> taking material in the direction of Tokyo and rainfall ensuring
> deposition on the ground the level of deposition to effect human
> health is maximised. Some radioactive material may therefore reach as
> far as Tokyo but this will be very limited.
>
> 12. The group agreed that lessons learned from similar incidents (at
> level 6 and beyond) is that a maximum exclusion zone (currently 20 km)
> will be effective. There was a 30km zone in place following the
> Chernobyl fire (level 7) and there is no evidence to suggest that a
> larger evacuation zone would have led to any significant reduction in
> health effects from direct exposure to radiation. Tokyo is around 250
> km away from Fukushima.
>
> 13. If this reasonable worst case scenario occurs, then it will be
> possible to take mitigating action -- taking shelter within buildings.
> This will be necessary whilst the plume passes over.
>
> 14. The group also agreed that there are second order health effects
> in terms of food and water, which will need to be monitored but is
> unlikely to be significant in the Japan context.
>
>
> AGENDA ITEM 4: CONCLUSIONS
>
> 15. The CHAIR summed up. He said that unanimous view of SAGE is that
> there is no need for UK nationals to have to evacuate the vicinity of
> Tokyo, even in the likely reasonable worst case of a nuclear incident
> plus unfavourable weather conditions.
>
> 16. Lessons learned from more significant incidents, such as
> Chernobyl, are that a exclusion zone (currently 20 km) will be
> effective - even in the event of a more substantial release - in
> minimising the health effects from direct radiation exposure. Any
> emissions will be monitored in real time by the Japanese authorities
> which should enable appropriate advice to be issued.
>

The following meeting considered an enhanced worst case

>
> Enhanced reasonable worst case
>
> 15. The group agreed that an enhanced Reasonable Worst Case should be
> considered where there is a release from all three cores and the
> equivalent of six reactor cores in cooling ponds. The additional
> effects from this type of event were unclear, as the make-up of the
> material in the ponds was unknown. The hazard close to the facility
> and within the exclusion zone should be increased considerably.
>
> 16. The group agreed that current weather predictions suggest the
> prevailing wind would move around to the North West in the next few
> hours, taking any radiological material released out over the Ocean.
> The group heard that these conditions are expected to continue for the
> next few days.
>
> 17. The group heard that it was expected that current cooling
> activities will need to continue at, or close to, current levels for
> of the order of 10 days before the cores would have been cooled
> sufficiently and controlled to lower the current risk.
>
> 18. The group agreed that it was therefore possible that wind
> conditions could again become unfavourable before the risk of release
> had been removed. In this situation of winds taking material in the
> direction of Tokyo and rainfall ensuring deposition on the ground the
> level of deposition to effect human health would be maximised. The
> group agreed that some radioactive material would be likely to reach
> as far as Tokyo but this would be very limited.
>
> 19. The group agreed that lessons learned from similar incidents (at
> level 5 to 6) were that a maximum exclusion zone (currently 20-30 km)
> should normally be effective. There had been a 30km zone in place
> following the Chernobyl fire (level 7) and there was no evidence to
> suggest that a larger evacuation zone would have led to any
> significant reduction in health effects from direct exposure to
> radiation.
>
> 20. The group agreed that even if this enhanced reasonable worst case
> scenario occurred, then it would be possible to take mitigating action
> in Tokyo -- taking shelter within buildings. This would be necessary
> whilst the plume passes over. Tokyo is around 220km away from Fukushima.
>
> 21. The group agreed that there would be second order health effects
> in terms of food and water, but mitigation advice would be issued over
> a longer timescale.
>
> 22. The group agreed that even if containment was successful there
> would be significant long term clean-up issues in and around the
> Fukushima facility.
>
>
> AGENDA ITEM 4: CONCLUSIONS
>
> 23. Summing up, the CHAIR said that that the unanimous view of SAGE
> remained that there was no need for UK nationals to have to evacuate
> the vicinity of Tokyo. Recent events had not significantly affected
> this advice.
>

Subsequent minutes are also available at the link above.

According to the Government S&T Committee publications: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmsctech/1042/104204.htm

> The Government strongly agrees that the way in which SAGE advice is
> communicated is crucial. In response to lessons learned from swine flu
> and volcanic ash responses, the GCSA took a much more prominent role
> in briefing the media on SAGE scientific advice on events at the
> Fukushima power plant in Japan. Through the UK embassy in Tokyo, the
> GCSA held several teleconferences with UK nationals in Japan providing
> them with an opportunity to discuss their concerns about the nuclear
> incident. In doing this, the GCSA was supported by a number of SAGE
> members. The transcripts from these teleconferences are available
> online at the embassy website.

I haven't looked at these teleconference transcripts.

If anyone on this list believes that they would have done a better job in obtaining expert insight, considering likely outcomes and communicating advice to the public and to the Japanese Government, then I'd like to understand their basis for making such a claim.

I'd also like to understand what has led to the statement that JB lied. It's a libellous accusation and should either be fully substantiated or withdrawn.

Martyn

On 30/03/2013 07:25, Matthew Squair wrote:
> There's quite a body of literature on risk communication in
> circumstances of high risk and low trust (such as Fukushima). And I
> wish Sir John had read some of it, in fact I wish it was mandatory
> reading for anyone who has to communicate in that sort of situation.
>
> In this case he asserted a degree of accuracy in a response which was
> unwarranted, and in doing so he broke one of the cardinal rules of
> risk communication, never, ever lie. Leaving aside the ethics of that,
> there's the pragmatic reason that it's about the easiest way to
> destroy trust, and once trust is lost it's practically impossible to
> regain. Trust is the primary discriminator in risk communication,
> strangely.



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systemsafety_at_xxxxxx Received on Sat Mar 30 2013 - 16:30:58 CET

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