National Radon Strategy

UK National Radon Action Plan, PHE-CRCE-043 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-national-radon-action-plan

`The abstract to this document claims that “This report presents in a single document, the elements that make up the national radon strategy and the national radon action plan. It fulfils relevant requirements in the 2013 European Union Basic Safety Standards Directive on protection against ionising radiation (EURATOM, 2013).” I think that this statement admits the thought that occurred to me as I read the document for the first time; although labelled as the UK National Radon Action Plan it is not really a plan or a strategy, instead it is a comprehensive description of the work being undertaken in the UK to understand the extent of exposure to Radon, to identify where action should be taken to reduce Radon dose, and to take such steps and monitor their effectiveness.

The section labelled “UK radon strategy” talks about the UK strategy in the third person. It is not a strategy itself but describes a strategy that is off-stage. Where the document states that the UK strategy meets the requirements of the BSS it is really making the credible claim that the UK is already doing what it would have decided to do had it started with a blank sheet of paper and written a strategy in line with the guidance. Essentially the UK had a comprehensive Radon programme before the need was fully articulated in the BSS.

Radon appears in the BSS in a number of places (Article 54 Radon in the workplace, Article 74 Indoor exposure to Radon, Article 103 Radon Action Plan). The BSS requires that there is a national plan to address the long- term risks from radon exposure recognising that the combination of smoking and high radon exposure presents a substantially higher individual lung cancer risk than either factor individually and that smoking amplifies the risk from radon exposure at the population level.

The Ionising Radiation (Basic Safety Standards) (Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 2018 which came into force on 8th May 2018 require the Secretary of State to set a reference level for public exposure to radon. The reference level for the annual average radon activity concentration in air must not exceed 300 becquerel per cubic metre (regulation 8) in line with BSS Article 74. The BSS calls for a “basis for the establishment of reference levels”. The basis of the UK limits is not clear to me but there is probably a justification somewhere.

Further regulation is found in the Health and Safety at Work etc Act of 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

The SoS is also required to publish information about the hazards of indoor radiation, its measurement and ways of reducing it (Regulation 9). This is satisfied, at least in part, by the website at https://www.ukradon.org/.

There must be a national plan address long term health risks from radon ingress to dwellings, workplaces and buildings with public access (Regulation 10). This must be updated at intervals of no more than five years.

Annex 18 of the EU BSS gives a list of 14 things to consider when setting up a national radon plan. The use of this list is mandated by the 2018 regulations.  While I don’t think that the UK is missing anything important with the current approach it is not entirely obvious where each of these topics are covered.

Public Health England have a group focused on the radon issue and they provide leadership within the UK. This document was written by the PHE group along with several other government departments covering the UK and the devolved administrations.

The UK has maps are that identify radon Affected Areas, which are defined as where at least 1% of homes are expected to be above the radon Action Level (200 Bq m-3). These can be found at https://www.ukradon.org/. This shows that my home in Gloucestershire has a “maximum radon potential of less than 1% (in the clear) but with the surrounding area going up to 3 – 5%. Since these values are “indicative” I’m maybe not entirely in the clear.  This clearly shows that the need for an “approach, data and criteria for the delineation of areas” is satisfied. It is less clear that a risk assessment has been used to systematically identify the types of buildings that should be surveyed although the UK has a long standing survey programme.

The Forward plan for action on radon states that established UK infrastructure and provisions will be “maintained and supported” but not who will do this and who they will be answerable to which you may expect to find in a strategy. The New topics for consideration” explicitly mentions the annex of the EU BSS and picks up some of the missing elements and promises that they will be given attention and places actions, but not a time frame, on Public Health England.

Maybe next time the PHE will publish a document that looks more like a strategy. In the meantime keep up the good work.

References

EURATOM (2013). Council Directive 2013/59/EURATOM of 5 December 2013 laying down basic safety standards for protection against the dangers arising from exposure to ionising radiation, Official Journal of the European Union L13/1.

Ionising Radiation (Basic Safety Standards) (Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 2018 (which came into force on 8th May 2018)

The Ionising Radiation (Basic Safety Standards) (Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 2018, Regulation 4

 

The Ionising Radiation (Basic Safety Standards) (Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 2018 [Ref. 1] came into force on the 8th May.

Regulation 4 is concerned with “land [that] is contaminated as a result of the after-effects of an emergency, past practice or past work activity and the level of exposure of members of the public to ionising radiation cannot be disregarded from a radiation protection point of view”.

This is a very important aspect of emergency planning as learning how to live with the increased levels of environmental contamination that would follow from a significant accidental release of radioactivity is vital to the recovery and well-being of the local community.

The regulation requires that an appropriate minister sets a reference level for the land.

The definition of “reference” level is now different in three important documents:

  • The regulations (note: regulation not guidance) defines a reference level as
    the level of effective dose or equivalent dose above which optimisation of radiation protection for members of the public must be prioritised”
  • ICRP 103 [Ref. 2] has “In emergency or existing controllable exposure situations, this represents the level of dose or risk, above which it is judged to be inappropriate to plan to allow exposures to occur, and below which optimisation of protection should be implemented. The chosen value for a reference level will depend upon the prevailing circumstances of the exposure under consideration”
  • The EU BSS [Ref 3] has “reference level” means in an emergency exposure situation or in an existing exposure situation, the level of effective dose or equivalent dose or activity concentration above which it is judged inappropriate to allow exposures to occur as a result of that exposure situation, even though it is not a limit that may not be exceeded;”

It would be interesting to understand why those who framed the regulation felt that their definition was better than either the ICRP’s or EU BSS’s. What do the regulations mean by “prioritised”? Does it mean that the UK cannot budget any money for the schools, NHS, social care or road maintenance until the clean-up costs have been covered?

Paragraph 4 requires the appropriate minister to ensure that “appropriate arrangements are established for the on-going control of exposure of members of the public to ionising radiation, with the aim of establishing living conditions that can be considered as normal, including—

(a) the establishment of an infrastructure to support continuing self-help protective measures in the affected area, which may include the provision of information, advice and monitoring;

(b) remediation measures; and

(c) the delineation of the area.

This must be in place “before the resumption of habitation, or economic or social activities, on the land”. We need to be careful that this does not lead to people being kept away from their homes and offices for longer than is necessary as this is known to add to the social and economic stresses of the situation. We also need to avoid hasty decisions about reference levels and area delineation and, in fact, these are likely to be very fluid in the days and weeks following a serious accidental release of radioactivity.

The establishment of support infrastructure is likely to be a moving target as things become clearer and the affected members of the public become better informed of the situation and its ramifications. To say it must be in place before the public move back seems wrong.

Another major concern is that “this regulation does not apply while any part of an emergency plan is in effect in relation to the land in accordance with [REPPIR 2001]”. It is, of course very difficult to define when an emergency plan closes. Most off-site plans make provision for Recovery Working Groups which morph into the leadership of the recovery phase of the response which, it is recognised, could last for several years. Arguably, since this is a “part of an emergency plan” it stalls the application of this regulation pretty much indefinitely.

We need to understand a few things, including:

  • At what level can exposure of members of the public to ionising radiation be disregarded from a radiation protection point of view?
  • What does “prioritised” mean in Regulation 4(5)?
  • How are we to understand the clause that this regulation requires the emergency plan to cease to be in effect before the regulation comes into effect?

In summary this regulation touches on an important and difficult aspect of emergency planning; that of how do we keep the public safe, informed, healthy and at ease in areas that have been contaminated with radioactive material. The regulations require that a government minister establishes areas that have been significantly affected and defines reference levels, infrastructure, information streams and remediation plans to support these aims in those areas. There can be no argument that this is the right level for these decisions to be made.

Whether this regulation provides the appropriate regulatory tool is questionable. Hopefully we will never find out.

References

  1. The Ionising Radiation (Basic Safety Standards) (Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 2018, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2018/482/made.
  2. ICRP, 2007. The 2007 Recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection. ICRP Publication 103. Ann. ICRP 37 (2-4). http://www.icrp.org/publication.asp?id=ICRP%20Publication%20103.
  1. Council Directive 2013/59/Euratom of 5 December 2013 laying down basic safety standards for protection against the dangers arising from exposure to ionising radiation, and repealing Directives 89/618/Euratom, 90/641/Euratom, 96/29/Euratom, 97/43/Euratom and 2003/122/Euratom, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A32013L0059.

How best to respond to a nuclear emergency; shelter, evacuation or relocate?

See FT article here.

There are two quite separate themes going on here: evacuation and relocation. The former is about running away from an airborne plume and is an urgent action. The later is a longer term issue.

For prompt evacuation the debate is about what dose do you have to avert for it to be worth running. For an elderly or infirm person, where evacuation may cost their life, the averted dose would have to be well up in the range where deterministic effects kick in hard (but there is a added complication if their carers all want to run). For an infant, able to see evacuation as an adventure if the adults around them are not too visibly stressed and with longer for stochastic effects to hit, the trigger level of avertable dose is much lower. It is not easy to put numbers to these trigger levels, not easy to estimate avertable dose in the heat of the moment and not easy to reassure a population being hit with both radiation and media outpourings.  Decision makers are in a hard place!

For relocation, there is more time to take measurements, more time to talk to the people affected and more time to reach a decision. Still a hard place to be. The balance is between the disruption to people’s lives if they have to move permanently, particularly if they cannot recover their belongings and if the receiving population is negative in any way, and the worry about living in an area with elevated contamination levels. Experience shows that either way some of the people affected are going to need support for a long time to come.

There are no easy answers.

The obscure definition of Control in UK Cabinet Office parlance

My understanding of the history of emergency planning in the UK nuclear industry was that we adopted the management tool we call “Command and Control” after the Piper Alpha accident. In that disaster a fatal fire on a North Sea rig was prolonged while the responders sought somebody with authority to stop pumps feeding the fire with gas from neighbouring fields.

Following this lesson we ensured that our emergency arrangements unambiguously identified one role on site who would have unquestioned authority over all resources and actions on site after an emergency had been declared and another who would have similar unquestioned authority over the rest of the Company in support of the emergency response. We then gave people in these roles suitable training and a letter of authorisation promising them the full retrospective support of the Management Board for any actions they initiate when in post in response to an emergency.

An important set of components of the emergency scheme ensured that the person in this role was as fully aware of the changing situation as could be achieved and provided with the full range of technical advice that might be needed (situational awareness) and that their instructions (in terms of strategic foci) were converted to actions (orders) and every effort was made to complete the actions and report back in the time allotted. In this way the crisis is managed.

For many years I’ve worked with the Cabinet Office definitions of Command and Control.

I’ve just been reading the output of a New Zealand ministerial review Better Responses to Natural Disasters and Other Emergencies in New Zealand and I was struck by the completeness and clarity of their definitions of command and control:

  • Command (authority within an agency) is executed vertically, and includes the internal ownership, administrative responsibility, and detailed supervision of an agency’s personnel, tasks, and resources. Command cannot normally be exercised outside an agency.
  • Control (authority across agencies) is executed horizontally, and is the authority to direct tasks to another agency, and to coordinate that agency’s actions so they are integrated with the wider response. Control authority is established in legislation or in an emergency plan. This is control to task a certain agency towards a certain outcome (achieve a managed evacuation for example). It is not control over the actual resource – personnel and vehicles.
  • Coordination: bringing together agencies and resources to ensure unified, consistent, and effective response. 

    Command and control assists with coordination by defining authority between and within agencies.

These definitions can be compared to the UK Cabinet Office definitions as given in Cabinet Office Glossary

  • Command and control – The exercise of vested authority through means of communications and the management of available assets and capabilities, in order to achieve defined objectives.

Note: Command and Control are not synonymous terms – see the separate glossary entries.

  • Command – The exercise of vested authority that is associated with a role or rank within an organisation, to give direction in order to achieve defined objectives.
  • Control – The application of authority, combined with the capability to manage resources, in order to achieve defined objectives.

Further research quickly yielded the US and UK Department of Defence definitions

US Department of Defence, Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms

  • Command and control — The exercise of authority and direction by a properly designated commander over assigned and attached forces in the accomplishment of the mission.
  • Command — The authority that a commander in the armed forces lawfully exercises over subordinates by virtue of rank or assignment.
  • Control — Authority that may be less than full command exercised by a commander over part of the activities of subordinate or other organizations.

MoD, Joint Concept Note 2/17 Future of Command and Control

  • Command – The authority vested in an individual of the armed forces for the direction, coordination, and control of military forces.
  • Control – The authority exercised by a commander over part of the activities of subordinate organisations, or other organisations not normally under his command, that encompasses the responsibility for implementing orders or directives.

UK doctrine for civilian multi-agency working is based on co-operation of the Emergency Services rather than the control of all relevant resources by a Commander from a selected service (see Emergency Response and Recovery Non statutory guidance accompanying the Civil Contingencies Act 2004). This is consistent through the JESIP programme and the development of the Joint Decision Model.

I get the impression that historically our definitions of Command and Control may have been fudged so that it could be claimed that the concept is at the heart of multiagency response when, in fact, it clearly isn’t. We exercise Command and Control (or at least Command) within our own company or service structures and coordination between companies and services. Generally it seems to work in emergencies. If that is accepted then we don’t need to mangle the definition of control and “The application of authority, combined with the capability to manage resources, in order to achieve defined objectives” can be replaced with something clearer. If we feel that command and control across all the responders is more likely to achieve success than coordination (I’m certainly not in a position to judge this) then we should move in that direction. Either way better definitions of these key terms would be helpful.

REPPIR 2018 delayed?

The SRP tell me that “BEIS has advised that it is its intention to publish the Government response to the REPPIR consultation and the draft REPPIR regulations in late Spring 2018 with a view to laying the regulations before Parliament in Autumn 2018”.

I thought that the new regulations had to be in place in February of this year but didn’t think they were anywhere near enough to completion.

I can’t yet find a BEIS press release on the subject.

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.

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.

Notification of Withdrawal Bill and Euratom

One paragraph of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill Explanatory Notes states that “The power that is provided by clause 1(1) applies to withdrawal from the EU. This includes the European Atomic Energy Community (‘Euratom’), as the European Union (Amendment) Act 2008 sets out that the term “EU” includes (as the context permits or requires) Euratom (section 3(2)).”

It would be interesting to know what the impact on the UK nuclear industry might be if the UK were to withdraw from Euratom. It would give us more freedoms to run the industry as we see fit but that may not be such a great idea and it might reduce public and world confidence in us. There are, of course, many other international nuclear organisations such as IAEA and WANO that we can use for guidance and bench marking.