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

From: Matt Squair < >
Date: Thu, 4 Apr 2013 18:15:02 +1100


Martyn,

Thank you for pointing out the unintended contentious nature of my preceding comment and let me apologise for my sloppy shorthand. To clarify no, I do not think that anyone deliberately lied, white or otherwise. That'd be a simplistic, unfair and essentially unhelpful attribution.

What I do think is that a failure to clearly state the limits and uncertainty of the initial assessment, or to acknowledge the unpredictability of the situation, then followed by revisions to that worst case assessment caused a breakdown in the trust placed in what SAGE and JB were saying. One that could have been avoided.

A principle of crisis communication is that even unintended and innocent errors are highly likely to be adversely interpreted because of the low trust levels inherent in such situations. Hence the 'golden rule' that you need to be scrupulously open, frank and honest, especially about the limits and uncertainty in what you're saying.

Having read through the transcript of the telecon with the British embassy on the 15th March (Japanese time) I do not see that it met that principle.

As far as doing better, staring upfront in any communication the difficulties faced by SAGE, in figuring out at a distance what was going on* would be a good place to start.

Crisis communication is different, and the rules that you need to abide by are a good deal tougher.

Regards

--
Matt Squair
Sent with Sparrow (http://www.sparrowmailapp.com/?sig)

*see point 7 of SAGEs meeting on the 13th (UK) as an example.

On Sunday, 31 March 2013 at 2:30 AM, Martyn Thomas wrote:

> 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 (http://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.
> _______________________________________________
> The System Safety Mailing List
> systemsafety_at_xxxxxx >
>
>



The System Safety Mailing List
systemsafety_at_xxxxxx Received on Thu Apr 04 2013 - 09:15:22 CEST

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Sun Apr 21 2019 - 00:17:05 CEST