Once again the Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK is a voice of reason in a world of madness.
March 25, 1600hrs
British Embassy Briefing for BCCJ Members
In response to members of the British Community who have expressed an interest in receiving regular updates regarding the situation at Fukushima, the British Ambassador to Tokyo, David Warren, and the UK's Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir John Beddington, as well as representatives from the UK’s Health Protection Industry and the Department of Health, held a telephone briefing today at 1600hrs.
Here is a summary of the briefing (please note that this is designed to summarise the briefing for the benefit of BCCJ members and is not an official Embassy transcript):
Reactors: Current Situation
Sir John explained that the situation is still extremely serious, but that the Japanese authorities are making quite good progress at keeping things regulated, especially with regards to reactors 5 & 6. He went on to say that the "worst case scenario" imagined by the UK last week, is now very unlikely indeed. Although there is still a cause for concern, Sir John related that there are real indications of some progress. An example of this is that the Japanese have started to substitute seawater with fresh water in the cooling process, which will help the situation, because sea water evaporates more quickly than fresh water. Sir John said that this development is "very good news". Another example of progress is the restoration of power to the reactors.
While steam releases may be worrying to look at, Sir John said that the Japanese authorities are closely monitoring radiation levels and there is no indication of harmful radiation entering the atmosphere, "they are making steady progress". We can't forget about the dangers and are not "out of the woods yet" but there is a definite improvement to the situation. Advisors in the UK and nuclear experts also think that what the Japanese are doing is appropriate.
Water and food: Current Situation
Water: The advice being given by the Japanese authorities is sensible and people should follow this advice, Sir John said. He explained that the Japanese are very cautious in comparison to the UK and Europe in general and that any warning levels are based on cautious assumption, and dosage accumulated over a period of time. It is completely safe to wash in the water, he said. There is no need to buy bottled water to bathe children, for example. Also, there is “no point whatsoever” in taking iodine tablets at the moment, as there is no threat and the effects of the tablets only last for 24 hours. If a radioactive plume was due to come over Tokyo, Sir John assured attendees that the British Embassy would give advice about when to take the tablets. Giving the tablets was an "entirely precautionary" measure by the Embassy. The levels of radioactivity that were found in water were below anything we would issue a warning about in the UK, he said. In addition, the warning is based on two whole months of consumption. Sir John reconfirmed that the Japanese authorities "get onto these things within a matter of hours or days" and there is a big level of precaution involved. In conclusion, it is unlikely that something would go amiss for 2 months when the authorities are being so vigilant.
Food: Sir John stated that the basic advice is that people should “absolutely avoid” all food from the affected area. In particular, shellfish and seaweed should be avoided as they accumulate higher levels of radioactivity than other seafood. He said that fish from the area should be avoided too, although fish do not accumulate as much radioactivity. The situation and advice regarding food will be changing as time goes on but Sir John advised; "if in doubt, do not eat it". He mentioned that longer term contamination in the area will be a problem, but that levels of radiation in food are easy to monitor and that this would help the Japanese regulate the situation.
Q: What would be the trigger for current travel advice to be lowered for Brits?
Attendees were urged to understand that Embassy travel advice is not predicated on radiation alone "Japan is a disturbed place just now". There is no reason from radioactivity point of view why you couldn't live happily in Tokyo, Sir John said.
Q: What is the area of contamination?
The Japanese authorities are taking highly precautionary measures; quite how far the area will spread out cannot be monitored from the UK, said Sir John. Experts in the UK recommend that you follow the Japanese advice. The contaminated area may in fact be wider than the current evacuation area and will probably cover a significant area around the plant, but dependent on wind direction and rainfall. He went on to say that plants will be affected, as will rain and seawater, but is confident that the Japanese authorities will monitor this.
Q: There has been natural cooling in the reactors - how does this affect your outlook?
Every day that passes sees a drop in radioactive levels trough natural processes, Sir John said, so "it will get easier over time", but he stressed "I don't think we can relax yet". It will take a matter of weeks before we can relax; the food situation will take longer than a week; the clean up will take several years. As an aside, it was mentioned that clean up depends on the fertility of the soil in the area.
Q: What are the dangers to those living closer to the plant?
Sir John said that in the event of a meltdown of reactors, people should stay indoors, take iodine tablets, as directed by the authorities, and follow advice given by the authorities.
Q: Can you comment on Cesium in the water?
Authorities will be measuring this but there is no evidence of anything that poses a problem now, said Sir John, however, vegetation could suffer for months.
In conclusion, Sir John urged attendees to use the monitoring being done by Japanese authorities as a guide. He is confident that if there is an alarm, the Japanese will keep people informed. He stressed that he doesn't think the UK’s worse case scenarios are plausible now, but that calculations are continuing to be done every 3 to 4 hours. Finally, Sir John emphasised that he is happy to keep up a dialogue with British nationals in Japan and will make himself available for another briefing next week if desired. For now, the UK will monitor changes, hold regular meetings and keep the Embassy informed