It is easier to scare than to reassure. The Shamisen project report

The EU-OPERA SHAMISEN project started in December 2015. One driver for this project was the realisation that existing recommendations on nuclear accident dose control had an almost exclusively technical focus which was directed towards the decision making process of experts while failing to consider the impact on the general populations. Both Chernobyl and Fukushima taught us that averting dose is only part of the process of protecting the public; social, ethical, psychological issues are as important, if not more so. What was needed was a set of recommendations that would contribute to health surveillance and related communication with affected populations after nuclear accidents.

The project has now reported (here). It presents a number of recommendations and, for each one, it briefly explains why they make the recommendation, how it can be satisfied and who should take the lead. This is a very good format for this type of document.

Of particular interest to me are:

R7 Build a radiation protection culture between radiation protection experts, healthcare workers, professionals and the general public. This is a very big ask. Radiation Protection is eye wateringly complex and it takes several hours to explain the basics to people with a good science education. The big questions are how are the healthcare workers going to find the time to listen and how are you going to convince the public that they need to devote the time and effort to learning. After an accident in their area I think we’d have their attention but not before. This is a laudable ambition, teaching materials can be written (indeed many good examples already exist) but after that there are no quick wins.

R8 Establish early response and communication protocols with responsibilities and roles clearly laid out. Engage relevant stakeholders in the establishment of these protocols, and prepare the necessary material and channels to communicate with the public (including social media). This is part of the preparedness phase. Much of this is already part of basic emergency plans. Off-site plans invariably list who should be alerted and define the roles and responsibilities of responders. Maybe more could be done to prepare information and discuss how it could be presented to the public on the day of an event and in the days and weeks following an event.

R10 Prepare and facilitate training and education material and resources adapted to healthcare and other professionals, as well as other stakeholders. This is another laudable ambition to pre-position healthcare, community leaders and teachers with suitable knowledge and teaching materials ready to step and inform and reassure the public if the worst happens. Again the problem is one of time and focus. Healthcare professionals have a lot of competing issues to consider as they strive to support the community health.

R13 Foster participation of stakeholders and communities by engaging them in emergency preparedness, including planning for socio-economic health surveillance and, where appropriate, epidemiology. Again the industry and the government already does a lot in this area with regular meetings with community groups and community group representation on multi-agency emergency planning meetings. This tends to be more about the arrangements to promulgate and alert and support early countermeasures rather than socio-economics and epidemiology. (Having said that health physics is a challenge to teach it must be recognised that it is relatively straightforward compared to epidemiology).

R14 Ensure prompt sharing of accurate and reliable information (e.g., plant conditions, radiation dose, radiation protection actions) between nuclear plant representatives, authorities, experts and the population. The paper has a great quote here; “it is easier to scare than to reassure”. Talking about the tendency of misinformation to quickly fill any gaps in communication it reports that “a recent study found that, during the Zika virus outbreak, the most popular social media health stories were the least accurate”. This isn’t a surprise but it does focus us on the reality of public communication – it is difficult. The authors conclude this section by saying that “the benefits of online information offer the public a unique opportunity to learn about nuclear power, which may outweigh the costs associated with “internet cacophony”.

I find the recommendation R18 Provide support to populations who wish to make their own measurements, recommending reliable equipment and resources (e.g., apps, social media, information centres) that can contribute to the characterisation of population exposure and its evolution a little hard to agree with. Radiation detection is relatively easy. Radiation measurement is quite difficult. Interpretation of radiation measurements in terms of harm is difficult. There could be benefits from providing groups of people immediately affected by the incident with a group EPD to give a quick assessment of their dose during the acute phase, and providing everyone who returns from evacuation with a personal TLD (collected and read by the authorities) to assess their doses systematically. But I would hesitate to encourage unskilled people to wield unfamiliar radiation monitors and use the results to affect their behaviour.

The recovery phase recommendations all have merit and consideration of this document should be included in any recovery phase planning effort.

What do we need to do better as a result of this advice?

I think that the idea of building up radiological protection knowledge capital prior to an event is sensible but difficult. Encouraging healthcare professions, community leaders and people the community might trust such as teachers is always going to struggle against competing calls on their time and attention. Given that other threats such as flu pandemic, other health scares and themes such as mental health, diet and obesity are more likely to impact they are more likely to take the training time of these people. The industry’s outreach and information programmes should continue.

Early response tools, such as briefing material, are often spoken about and nuclear operators tend to have trained Media Technical Briefers to explain the complexities of nuclear accidents and health implications on the day. A review to see if more can be done, particularly with emerging technology and communications channels, should be undertaken periodically.


This report is well thought out, well presented and valuable. It deserves to be read by nuclear emergency planners and those responders with responsibility for advising and supporting members of the public before, during and after an accident.

Decline or fail – When the nuclear planning local authorities cannot match expectations.

I was interested to learn that the American system has a mechanism to respond to a situation where a nuclear power station cannot get adequate support from the local responders for their off-site plan. Their rules define “decline or fail” as a “situation where State or local governments do not participate in preparing offsite emergency plans or have significant planning or preparedness inadequacies and have not demonstrated the commitment or capabilities to correct these inadequacies in a timely manner so as to satisfy NRC licensing requirements”. (44 CFR 352.1)

An Executive Order enacted by Ronald Regan in 1988 summarises the situation. Chapter and verse can be found in Code of Federal Regulations 44 Emergency Management and Assistance (dated 2002).

The licensee seeks Federal assistance by submitting certification that a decline or fail situation exists to the host FEMA Regional Administrator explaining why assistance is needed and providing documentary proof that they have tried to rectify the situation themselves.

This is reported to FEMA Headquarters and the involved off-site organisations. The State and local governments have 10 days to submit a written report of their views and position and FEMA make a determination about whether or not a decline or fail exist within 45 days of the original communication.

The FEMA Deputy Administrator for the National Preparedness Directorate shall make a final determination as to whether Federal facilities and resources are needed. This process identifies what resources could be called on, the extent and purpose for which they can be called and the limitations on their use.

Interestingly it is assumed that the State and local authorities will contribute their full resources and exercise their authorities in accordance with their duties in a real event.

The Federal resources are to take care not to supplant State and local resources and only make good the impact of the decline or fail. FEMA will attempt to recover the costs incurred from the licensee and from the nonparticipating or inadequately participating State or local government.

In the UK REPPIR requires co-operation from various bodies and requires that the off-site plan be reviewed and tested but makes no mention of what happens if off-sites are deemed inadequate.

Protective Action Guides

In the United States the Environmental Protection Agency issues “Protective Action Guidelines” (PAGs) which satisfy the same role that Emergency Reference Levels (ERLs) do in the United Kingdom. The Protective Action Guide (PAG) manual contains radiation dose guidelines that would trigger public safety measures, such as evacuation or staying indoors, to minimize or prevent radiation exposure during an emergency.

The 2017 PAG manual is a significant document (101 Pages) which has chapters devoted to:

  • Early phase protective action guides;
  • Emergency worker protection;
  • Intermediate phase protective action guides;
  • Planning guidance for the late phase.

For the early phase it provides a PAG for shelter in place or evacuation of the public of 10 to 50 mSv projected dose over four days. This is accompanied by a note that suggests that actions should start at 10 mSv projected dose and take whichever action or actions result in the lowest exposure for the majority of the population. This is broadly consistent with IAEA advice and UK practice although the UK ERLs are based on averted dose rather than projected.

 The stable iodine PAG is 50 mSv to the infant thyroid from exposure to radioactive iodine.

Emergency workers should be limited to 50 mSv over the entire response or per year unless there are extreme circumstances (such as saving life or preventing a significant release).

The report warns that: “In the early phase, there may be little or no data on actual releases to the environment and responders may have to rely on crude estimates of airborne releases. Decision time frames are short and preparation is critical to make prudent decisions when data are lacking or insufficient.”

The report suggests that the public should be advised to cover their mouth and nose with “available filtering material” when particulate activity may be present. This advice is not given in the UK.

It is also suggested that where particulate activity is present but below the PAG level the public are advised to “stay indoors to the extent practical” to reduce their dose but make a judgement if they need to go out for any reason. Such advice is apparently given on days when air pollution is forecast to be bad. Again, this is not something I’ve heard mentioned in the UK.

 A discussion about the relative merits of shelter in place and evacuation concludes that “Sheltering-in-place should be preferred to evacuation whenever it provides equal or greater protection. Sheltering-in-place followed by informed evacuation may be most protective”. It reports that populations that are aware of the evacuation alerting mechanisms and plans are more likely to successfully evacuate than unprepared populations and further reports that many areas are improving their communications processes and public training. The need to have special plans for needy groups such as schools, institutions and those without their own transport is noted.

On iodine tablets the report suggests that minimum doses for each age (weight) group is ideal but that, if this is too challenging logistically and in terms of communication, then a full dose can be given to all without great risk.

Interestingly it suggests that adults over 40 years old would only benefit from stable iodine if their projected thyroid dose is of the order of 5 Sv where it can be used to prevent hypothyroidism.

Stable iodine given to pregnant women also protects the foetus but repeat doses should be avoided if possible to prevent foetal thyroid complications. (In the UK it is expected that a single dose of stable iodine will be adequate because either the release will have stopped or the affected members of the public should be evacuated within the 24 hours that the first dose provides protection for).

Breast feeding mothers can reduce the radioiodine in their milk by taking the usual dose of stable iodine. This is useful for reducing the baby’s dose but does not protect them from directly inhaled radioiodine for which a small dose of stable iodine can be administered.

Section 2.3 discusses the process of estimating dose projections based on source terms, atmospheric dispersion and release prognosis. Section 2.4 discusses contamination and environmental monitoring.

Subsequent sections discuss the control and limitation of dose to responders and recovery workers and doses in the later phases of the event, including from food and water, once the release has stopped. Of interest is table 4-2 which summarises a discussion about the circumstances under which people can be allowed back into an area, either for remedial work, use of critical infrastructure, to access business and homes to recover property.

On the whole the advice given in this report is similar to that given in the NRPB’s ERL documents that are used in the UK. It contains some interesting and useful discussion.

“keyhole” countermeasure zones


Experience of the environmental remediation of Fukushima

The IAEA has published proceedings which present the outcome of a conference on decommissioning and environmental remediation (D&ER) programmes, at which challenges, achievements and lessons learned in the implementation of such programmes during the past decade were shared and reviewed (here).

An interesting presentation by Tadashi INOUE, Research  Advisor to Fukushima Prefecture on Remediation (here) Session 4b No 11) which, if I understand it correctly, argues that, for the decontamination around Fukushima:

  • The lack of understanding of radiation in the general public was a barrier to the initial discussions and this helped sour the relationship between the people and the authorities.
  • The variety of players acting and publishing independently in the early stages caused confusion and insecurity. Better co-ordination of monitoring and interpretation should be sought from an early stage.
  • Target levels for decontamination and dose reduction should be set based on radiological, technical and sociological issues and within the ICRP 1mSv/yr – 20 mSv/yr band.
  • The development of a decontamination strategy is a priority. The highest contaminated areas are not necessarily the place to start rather the emphasis should be on dose reduction.
  • The acceptance of community and property owner is essential for the progress of remediation.
  • Gaining the trust of the people is made difficult by the number of different opinions being expressed in public. In Japan they seem to have more trust in academics than in officials.

Some of this learning may not apply in the UK due to differences in the behaviour of society.

The balance of centralised coordination of the monitoring and interpretation against independent work by various bodies will be hard to manage to optimise trust, understanding and joint decision making.

Finding a process where the trust of the residents can be developed through dialogue will take time and will be made difficult by the actions of some parties multiplied by the impact of broadcast abd social media. The level of anger expressed around the Grenfell Tower fire in London over shortcomings in the care offered to the survivors in the hours and weeks after the event and the media involvement in the Charlie Gard court case show how difficult the situation can get and how distracting the views of people outside as well as those inside the issue can be.

(All figures from Tadashi INOUE presentation to IAEA (Madrid, May 2016))

Costs of decommissioning UK nuclear industry

cost of decommissioining

The NDA have issued a statement on the estimated costs of decommissioning the parts of the UK nuclear industry that they are responsible for (here).

It shows total costs in the range £97 billion – £222 billion with a best estimate of £119 billion over 120 years. Discounted cost is put at £164 billion which is higher than the unadjusted cost because the NDA now use negative discounting rates as explaining in the supporting document from the Treasury (here) but more clearly in an Annex to the Annual Report (here).

The current value of £164 billion compares to £160.6 billion a year ago. This includes £1.3 billion being added to the estimated cost of completing the job. Inflation and changes to the discount rates being applied explains the rest of the increase.

So despite £3.243 billion being spent and an Annual Report talking of good progress the estimated cost to completion is more than it was at the start of the reporting period.

The Annual Report admits that £100 million was spent in compensation following the flawed contest for the Magnox contract.



A Korean APR 1400 for Moorside?

It looks possible that the Korean company TEPCO will take a major stake in the Moorside project. This may involve junking the design and regulatory  work already done on the UK AP1000 (Ref ONR Website) applying to build their own APR 1400 design. That may cause delays but they have a good record of building reactors.

Kepco was formed in 1951, has the brand statement “power with heart” and describes its main business as “Electric power, heat supply, telecommunications and gas supply” (Ref KEPCO website). According to Wikipedia it is just over 50% state owned.

Early news of TEPCO’s interest in Moorside was published in the Guardian in February 2017 (Ref)  More recent news is reported in the FT in July 2017 (Ref). New investment is thought necessary as Toshiba is struggling to survive (Ref).

Korea has a very credible history in the nuclear industry (Ref). The APR1400 being built at Barakah in Abu Dhabi is reported to be 95% complete and receiving nuclear fuel (Ref). But the news that Korea is withdrawing from nuclear power at home (Ref) is a cause for concern.

A one page overview of the APR 1400 reactor can be found at Ref  and a more detailed one at Ref. (See also Ref for a description of the APR+).

The first of these reactors, Shin Kori Unit 3, entered service in December 2016. Reports suggest that 7 further units are under construction and 4 more planned (Ref)) although the recent announcement of a plan to wind down domestic nuclear power (Ref) may have an impact on that programme.

The APR1400 is a 1450 MWe evolutionary PWR based on the Korean Standard Nuclear Power Plant (KSNP) aspiring to provide both enhanced safety and economic competitiveness.

As shown in the circuit diagram below the reactor design has two steam generators but, unusually each of these has two reactor coolant pumps each feeding into a separate cold leg. The pressuriser, attached to one hot leg, and the steam generators are increased in size compared to previous models and the reactor outlet temperature has been dropped to cope better with transients.

From IAEA-CN-164-3S09

Leak before break technology has permitted the pipe restraint system to the simplified.

The Safety Injection System consists of four trains each with a safety injection tank and a safety injection pump. This system provides high pressure, low pressure and recirculation in one system. It injects directly into the Reactor Pressure Vessel to eliminate the potential for leakage from a damaged cold leg. The safety injection pumps are physically separated from each other reducing the probability of common mode failure in fires, sabotage or floods.

A steel lined, post tensioned concrete structure with a reinforced concrete internal layer provides containment, biological shielding and protection from external hazards. It contains the reactor, the reactor cooling circuits, the steam generators and the In-Containment Refuelling Water Storage Plant. The latter is a key safety feature providing cooling water in fault conditions and a large heat sink.

Interestingly the reactor is designed to be able to manage daily load following based on the Korean experience of demand of 100% output for 16 hours a day and 50% output for 4 hours a day with 2 hour power-ramps.

The financial case for Hinkley Point C

The government have updated their contractual documents and supporting information for Hinkley Point C (here).

The decision taken by the Secretary of State (SoS) for the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy to direct the Low Carbon Contracts Company (LCCC) to offer a Contract for Difference (CfD) to Hinkley Point C was based on the Value for Money Assessment published on this site. This means that the Government will reimburse the operators if they have to sell electricity below the “strike price”.

This is based on the belief that, left to themselves, “market failures” would result in a undesirable configuration of the electrical generation and distribution system.

Businesses are more likely to invest where the return on capital is rapid and secure. In the electrical generation world this means gas turbines and other cheap and quick to install kit. The current designs of nuclear reactors under construction are far from this ideal. Expensive, with long lead times and technical and political risks involved. The investor has to put in a lot of money upfront and wait a long time for returns. A technical or political hitch could wipe those returns out at any time. A principle of the CfD justification is that the investor should get a fair return for risking their capital over a long period of time on a “first of class” power station. It is a risk sharing mechanism that saves the government from direct investment in the project.

The market does not fully take into account the real societal costs from burning hydrocarbons and by itself would not reduce the production of greenhouse gases associated with fossil fuel combustion. So subsidies are given to low carbon generators to bridge this unfairness. This is an area of controversy with some believing that all subsidies are wrong and others wanting them only for their preferred version of “green”. Nonetheless some of the CfD is to encourage low carbon generation.

Another consideration is diversity of supply. It is true that the British people and the British economy would be unhappy if their energy needs were more expensive than needed but they would be far more unhappy if their energy aspirations were not met. Imagine flicking the light switch and nothing happening. A large nuclear power station can provide base load electricity day in day out no matter what the weather and is slow to be affected by any disruptions in the fuel supply. This will be valuable in a future with more dependence on imported hydrocarbons and larger amounts of wind and solar power but where storage of electricity on the scale desired to stabilise a renewables dominated grid is technically and financially out of reach.

The case is laid out for all to read. Some say the strike price is too high, some say far too high. It remains to be seen if Hinkley Point C can and will be built and whether the investors will get a decent (or maybe indecent) return on capital invested.



Heatwave plan for England

PHE and NHS England have issued new advice on planning for heatwaves (here).

The purpose of this heatwave plan is to reduce summer deaths and illness by raising public awareness and triggering actions in the NHS, public health, social care and other community and voluntary organisations to support people who have health, housing or economic circumstances that increase their vulnerability to heat.

It states a concern that periods of hot weather will become more common in the UK as climate change kicks in leading to increased deaths among several identified vulnerable groups and some infrastructure issues.

The Met. Office has a mechanism for promulgating alerts about forecasts of dangerous weather conditions and this is explained in the context of heatwaves and is linked to five levels of heatwave readiness.

We should be trying to make our public spaces, buildings and homes cooler by design, including tree planting and open water features. Cooling homes by appropriate shading and ventilation but also by choice of colours for curtains and roofs.

On the day we should be avoiding exercise in the midday sun, drinking plenty of water but less caffeine, wearing cool clothing and looking out for our neighbours.

It is a bit light on what employers can do to protect their workforce without sacrificing more productivity than required but, if they read the report, they’ll pick up some useful tips.

Communicating the risks of particulate and chemical air pollution and air-borne radioactivity.

There is an interesting article “Cutting through the smog” by Nic Fleming in the 6th May 2017 New Scientist. There are some scare statistics given – “it is estimated to be behind 200,000 untimely deaths each year”. But, as the author points out quantifying the impact of air pollution is a more complicated and uncertain business than the headlines admit.

There are parallels with the issues of environmental radioactivity and distrust of the nuclear industry.

Air pollution and radioactivity do not kill in the same way as being hit by a London bus might. Air pollution may aggravate other problems you have and has been linked to respiratory and pulmonary diseases and stroke. A UK committee has estimated that the anthropogenic PM2.5 released at 2008 levels would shorten the average person’s life by six months. This is morphed into costing 29,000 deaths a year in the UK, which is the major headline carried by the media.

Similarly radiation, in low doses, does not lead to instantly noticeable effects but rather is suspected of leading to an increase in the incidence of cancer in later years. Quantifying the additional cancer risks posed by different types of radiation at different doses, different dose rates and on people with different inherent cancer risks is complex and usually, by necessity, over simplified when attempting to explain it to the public. ICRP states that the linear no-threshold hypothesis “remains a prudent basis for radiation protection at low doses and low dose rates” but there is also an increasingly strong insistence that there is some kind of a threshold at 100 mSv. (See IAEA EPR Communicate).

In the UK it is the local authorities that are tasked with implementation of the national air quality strategy. The Lancet  fears that this will lead to a fragmented approach “as hundreds of local authorities (tasked with implementation) attempt to follow central government guidelines” and they doubt the “the ability of the government to measure progress and hold failing local authorities to account”.

Unfortunately the steps taken to reduce air pollution, particularly in cities, have always struggled to keep up with increased road usage and, particularly, increased use of diesel engines. The New Scientist report questions the effectiveness of the London Low Emission in reducing levels of pollutants or related respiratory and allergy problems in children despite its wide scope. Encouraging more people to walk or cycle and providing low emission public transport would seem to have just reduced the rate of increase of vehicle mileage in cities. Well worth doing but not enough. It is noted in the article that emissions of a number of key pollutants in the UK are dropping, for some quite dramatically. But more progress is desired.

The report claims that face masks vary from about 80% to 30% effectiveness at filtering particles from the air but it depends on the nature of the mask, the nature of the pollution and, importantly, the quality of the fit to the face of the mask. Unless they are treated with appropriate chemicals the masks have no impact on gaseous pollutants such as NO2 and SO2. Face masks are not recommended in the UK as an effective countermeasure against inhaled radioactivity in the event of a reactor accident because of concerns about their effectiveness without face fitting and training and because the principle component of concern are the radioactive iodine species. The preferred approach is to remove the person from the threat by sheltering or evacuation. For a non-technical discussion about face masks see an article by the survival mom and the comments attached to it.

A difference between air pollution and environmental radioactivity is that the public do not seem to fear air pollution to quite the same extent. Shunichi Yamashita reflects on the situation around Chernobyl and Fukushima following the two severe accidents in those places in the New Scientist of 13 May 2017. He reports that the big surge in non-thyroid cancers and genetic effects in the areas affected by Chernobyl that some predicted have not been detected. His advice to people in Fukushima in the early aftermath of the accident there, which was to try to relax and to try not to worry about the enhanced environmental radioactivity, was widely condemned but he still contends that he would expect no apparent health effects when the exposure was below 100 millisieverts a year. (I’m not sure about the “a year” bit, it might be a misunderstanding. ICRP advice is that a one-off residual dose of 100 mSv is probably not harmful but that the dose-rate thereafter should be no more than 20 mSv a year. (See ICRP letter to Fukushima residents).

The article concludes that psychological effects from the trauma of evacuation and the fear of radiation are now the biggest health consequences of the nuclear accident at Fukushima. Adults are experiencing depression, sleep loss and anxiety. There have been more than 80 suicides linked to the accident to add to the 60 people who died due to poor medical support during the evacuation. But there have been no deaths or sickness from direct exposure to radiation.

The conclusion from comparing the articles on air quality and post-Fukushima health concerns is that understanding the impact of airborne pollutants including ozone, particulates, NOx and SOx and radioactivity is very difficult. Communicating those potential impacts to the public is also very difficult but also very important. Without an understanding of the relative impacts of different aspects of modern life it is not possible for the public to understand the absolute and relative risks posed or for governments to sensibly prioritise policy and funding.

Strategic National Guidance: Decontamination of buildings after CBRN incident


This document states that it is important to have plans in place to manage the decontamination of the environment (built and natural) following a CBRN event or accident that spreads contamination. This is sensible at national levels but the report states that “The possibility of exposure to CBRN should be a key component of business continuity planning (BCP) in order to maximise resilience, safeguard life and property, and minimise operational disruption”.

This is taking things too far. Many Business Continuity Managers complain that they can’t get support for the maintenance of plans against things that might reasonably be expected to happen. I’m really not sure that we can expect companies and households to have CBRN decontamination plans.