On the occasion of the 5th year of the Fukushima nuclear accident, I wrote an article entitled ”Our Lessons from Fukushima: New Concerns for the Future.” It was a pleasure to receive so many positive responses from friends and other readers.
Many readers also indicated their frustrations with the reality that many unsolved issues continue: 400 tons of contaminated water from the Fukushima plant run into the sea every day; no repository sites have been designated for radiation waste materials; and no scientific solutions regarding clean-up of the melted reactors are expected for at least 40 years. Readers have also appreciated my concern about the high probability of terrorists’ attacks upon the many nuclear power plants around the world and the need to establish some mechanisms and strategies to tackle the situation following such attacks – post-event planning and interventions. It was gratifying to learn that the organizations Physicians for Social Responsibility/International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (PSR/IPPNW Switzerland) published this article in English and French. (IPPNW was award the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985.)
We have learned that even one mishap or mistake from any one of the many hundreds of nuclear power plants would cause a tremendous human and environmental loss for many decades, if not centuries. Damage incurred from a nuclear attack or a “dirty bomb” would be so large it would prove hard to calculate, but the costs are sure to be much larger than development and implementation of alternative energy sources. (Looking forward, an additional concern is how we safely store highly irradiated spent fuel rods whose plutonium has a half-life of 24,000 years and how we identify suitable locations for the storage of these nuclear wastes to protect our descendants.)
I see possibilities for crisis in the approximately 430 nuclear power plants that currently exist in 31 countries, with another 66 under construction in 16 countries. We have long accepted the dangers of attacks by nation state actors with nuclear weapons, and now we must understand and recognize the implications of the threat of human error and natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes on nuclear power plants besides direct attacks on these power plants. Above all, I am particularly concerned with terrorist attacks on nuclear power plants in highly volatile countries. Not only can we not stop the growing number of wars and conflicts, it may also not be realistic to expect a lower likelihood of terrorist attacks upon nuclear power plants or an increase in the readiness of governments and nuclear industries to address these challenges.
Albert Einstein said in 1945: “The release of atomic power has changed everything except our way of thinking … the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker.”
I am convinced we should undertake actions that responsibly prepare us to respond to a nuclear crisis.
Prevention and Post-event Actions
Prevention of nuclear crisis is a first-order need that governments, the IAEA, many international organizations, and opinions leaders should (and do) tackle at all cost. This week, President Obama is hosting the fourth and final Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C. Despite these efforts, interest in nuclear security (PDF) among world leaders is waning, driven in part by complacency – a sense that all is well because a full-scale nuclear disaster has not occurred.
But what happens if such a crisis does occur? Preventing a nuclear crisis is one job. Reducing the damage and panic after a crisis is another. What I have learned from Fukushima is post-event actions must also be anticipated – how do we best handle emergency repairs on nuclear structures, evacuations of thousands or millions of people, psychological trauma, and other actions we would prefer to ignore? The challenge is to bring the wisdom of experts across many fields to create a comprehensive analysis. This is not a problem that can be fully anticipated and solved, but we can establish mechanisms that offer significant preparedness for post-event scenarios involving nuclear crises for the next generations to come.
I write to introduce the Nuclear Emergency Action Alliance (NEAA). I have co-founded the NEAA to tackle three specific needs: (1) identify and advise on first steps after a nuclear crisis from engineering, political, and medical fields through the diverse expertise of an international advisory council, (2) develop well-researched and effective medical protocols of interventions to reduce the harm of radiation exposure, and (3) communicate accurate, high quality information and analysis through social networks.
I look forward to receiving your opinions and comments as we further develop the effectiveness of the NEAA.
Introducing the Nuclear Emergency Action Alliance
Estimates by knowledgeable analysts indicate there is increased probability that terrorists will target one or more of the many nuclear power plants around the world, particularly in Pakistan, where political turmoil and low security make power plants especially vulnerable.
At the same time there also exists the threat of an explosion of “suitcase” nuclear devices in critical areas [e.g., Wall Street], intended to spread radiation and panic. Buttressing this concern are recent reports of missing radioactive materials [from hospitals and other sites, both in the US as well as Iraq and states within the former USSR], which could fall into the hands of terrorists.
In the case of a crisis, the governments face competing pressures of solving an enormously difficult problem and keeping panic from breaking out. These dual needs leave a gap of trust and action between the citizen and her government.
Key Needs. Given these rising threats and conflicting government interests, we have identified three critical needs that remain unfulfilled for a post-nuclear disaster scenario. The first need is to be prepared to evaluate many possible crises and devise creative solutions for authorities to reduce further damage immediately afterward – through emergency repair or evacuation, for example. A group of authorities with wide-ranging expertise from many backgrounds could independently appraise the situation and, by doing so, help marshal resources to solve the problems they identify as most urgent.
The second critical need is for the construction of useful and valuable interventions that the public could undertake, even while being “assured” everything is totally under control and no dangers exist. There is a significant need to have available well-researched and carefully defined medical protocols of interventions that could address radiation-release. Presently there are virtually no available medical protocols of care that could protect people from radiation exposure. What is needed is a prior aggregation of worthwhile interventions for a variety of levels of radiation exposure that can arise in the face of a nuclear catastrophe.
The third need is the effective utilization of social media networks and strategies, which the NEAA will employ to disseminate the accurate, high quality information, analyses, and protocols it develops.
Action Plan. First, the NEAA will assemble an International Advisory Council of 100 respected opinion leaders and technical experts who can offer a variety of authoritative perspectives on evacuation, safety and other aspects of crisis response, to affected communities. Second, the NEAA will organize well-researched, effective medical protocols of intervention for radiation exposure that would be ready for immediate use when needed. Finally, the NEAA will draw upon the full range of social media networks to disseminate the information, analyses, and protocols it assembles.
Background of Founder. The founder of the NEAA, Akio Matsumura, has a truly remarkable track record of accomplishing this assembly of world experts and opinion leaders and will again undertake this task for the NEAA. Akio Matsumura has worked in London and New York for UN and international organizations for 45 years. He established the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders. He served as Secretary General for the Global Forum Moscow Conference hosted by President Gorbachev at the Kremlin in 1990 and also the Parliamentary Earth Summit Conference hosted by National Congress of Brazil at Rio de Janeiro in 1992. A recent article by Akio [www.akiomatsumura.com] further advances his insights into the need for the NEAA.