By David Green
Monday, January 7, 2013
THE entire population of a Suffolk town will be issued with “standby” supplies of anti-radiation pills if proposals put out to public consultation today are approved.
People living and working in Leiston, as well as schools, would also be given annual calendars setting out the procedures for use in the event of a major release of radioactivity from the Sizewell nuclear site.
The official emergency planning zone around the Sizewell site currently covers a radius of just 2.4 kilometres, an area with a total population of just 600 people and including only a small part of Leiston.
However, proposals being put forward today by the Suffolk Resilience Forum, which includes the county’s emergency services and local authorities, suggests the zone should be increased to a 4km radius – in line with current international guidelines but far short of the 20km radius being demanded by local critics of the nuclear industry.
Demands for a wider zone have followed in the wake of events in Japan two years ago when an earthquake caused a tsunami and a major escape of radioactivity from the Fukushima nuclear power site, hundreds of thousands of people being forced to flee their homes.
While the risk of a major accident at Sizewell - in a country not prone to significant earthquake activity - is regarded as extremely low, the Government has announced new safety guidelines affecting all nuclear power stations.
A four-kilometre emergency zone around Sizewell would cover the whole of Leiston and much of Aldringham and Thorpeness, an area with a total population of 6,500 - people who would get priority attention in the event of a major nuclear accident.
All those living or working within the enlarged zone would be routinely issued in advance with potassium iodate pills which, if swallowed following a release of radioactivity, can help limit the dangerous absorption of radioactive iodine by the thyroid.
Schools in Leiston, which take children from a wide rural area, would also be given standby supplies of the pills.
A further proposal is the designation of an extended “precautionary” zone over a radius of 15km, within which efforts would be made to increase awareness of emergency arrangements among the 32,000 population.
The aim in any major emergency would be to - within 12-18 hours - give advice to people in this outer zone on whether to evacuate or take shelter and to distribute potassium iodate pills.
The 15km “precautionary” zone would cover the towns of Saxmundham. Aldeburgh and Southwold and more than a dozen villages, including Dunwich and Walberswick.
Other proposals include the identification of evacuation centres in the outer, precautionary zone, especially for vulnerable groups such as youngsters at schools and playgroups and care home residents.
The Suffolk Resilience Forum is also proposing to build-up a database of information about the possible implications of an accident impact extending to a 30km zone.
About 10,000 people living in or close to the proposed four kilometre “inner” zone are to receive letters within the next few days inviting them to participate in the public consultation, which will end on April 8.
Referring to the Fukushima episode, the letter says: “Local environmental circumstances in Suffolk are very different in that we are not prone to earthquakes, nor is the Sizewell site likely to be affected by flooding as it is built well above sea level and is protected by robust sea defences.”
Andy Osman, Suffolk’s head of emergency planning, said that while the risk of a major accident at Sizewell was extremely low it was morally as well as legally right to plan for the worst possible scenario.
“The proposals we have put forward are a basis for discussion and we hope as many people as possible will take part in the consultation. Their views will be taken into account,” he said.
Pete Wilkinson, a Suffolk-based environment consultant and former member of a Government radioactive waste watchdog, said the proposals did not go nearly far enough.
“This consultation is important to tens of thousands of people and I think the emergency planners have blown it,” he said.
Charles Barnett, chairman of the Shut Down Sizewell Campaign, said the proposed emergency zone enlargement was “a step in the right direction” but did not go far enough.
“We hope it will make the public in Leiston wake up to the dangers they really face,” he added.
Joan Girling, chair of the Suffolk-based Communities Against Nuclear Expansion, said: “The proposed plan is better than the present one but far from perfect.”
An EDF spokesman said: “Safety is EDF Energy’s over-riding priority. As such we fully support the review being carried out by the Suffolk Resilience Forum to ensure the off-site emergency plan for Sizewell is in line with international guidelines and is fit for purpose.”
A spokesman for the Office for Nuclear Regulation said: ““We welcome the consultation on the local authorities’ off-site emergency plan for Sizewell, which will offer local people the opportunity to input to it and enhance it.”