Nuclear disastersBetter policies needed to reduce radiation exposure in nuclear accidents

Published 8 March 2012

A new study says that offsite policies and plans should be put in place to reduce the exposure of the public to radiation in the event of a nuclear power plant accident

In a report released yesterday, researchers at the Center for Biosecurity of UPMC assess offsite policies and plans that can be put in place to reduce the exposure of the public to radiation in the event of a nuclear power plant accident.

Even amidst the devastation following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan last year that killed more than 20,000 people, it was the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that led the country’s Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, to fear for “the very existence of the Japanese nation.”

A Center for Biosecurity at UPMC release reports that while such low-probability, high-consequence releases have been rare in the history of existing nuclear power plants, the growing number of plants worldwide increases the likelihood that such releases will occur in the future. Accidents far smaller in scale than the one in Fukushima could have major societal consequences.

Given that nuclear power is an important source of energy in the United States and will be for the foreseeable future, it is important that the United States has highly effective plans for minimizing the public health consequences of an accident should one occur.   

Researchers at the Center identified and interviewed more than ninety domestic and international experts in federal, state, and local governments, industry, and academia, and convened a working group of twenty-six experts who reviewed some early lessons from Fukushima and considered implications for U.S. preparedness planning for nuclear power plant accidents. The resulting report, titled After Fukushima: Managing the Consequences of a Radiological Release, represents the Center’s findings and recommendations.

The release notes that the Center’s analysis concluded that public health preparedness for mass radiation contamination events could be improved in a number of concrete ways, including federal and state potassium iodide strategies; how we communicate about radiation; and how we would carefully balance the public health risks of ionizing radiation with the financial costs of decontamination and the socioeconomic costs of vacating large areas of land. 

Dr. Tom Inglesby, director and CEO of the Center for Biosecurity, said, “There is a great deal to learn from the aftermath of Fukushima that is relevant to our own planning in the U.S. We should pay especially careful attention to the many lessons that continue to emerge in Japan as they grapple with their own long-term recovery from the Fukushima accident.”  

— Read more in After Fukushima: Managing the Consequences of a Radiological Release