Plume forecasts and crisis management

The Daily Yomiuri has an on-going series on the nuclear crisis where today they describe the impact of delays in releasing data.  In one instance, a community near the plant was evacuated in the early hours of March 12 to a city that was predicted by the plume forecast system (SPEEDI) to be receiving high radiation.  The mayor was not informed of the danger.  “Although the system was supposed to be used to deal with a crisis, we weren’t fully prepared to actually use it.” said one senior education ministry official. “There were no ideas or discussions about if the [SPEEDI] data should be made public.”

The story also describes a chain-of-command structure where when radiation data began being released to the public there was no one available to evaluate or interpret the data from the government perspective.  This lack of context fueled mistrust and alarm.

The “Report of Japanese Government to the IAEA Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety–The Accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations,” was issued June 7 and is a relatively candid assessment.  Some salient “Lessons Learned” related to plume forecasts and crisis management are:

Enhancement of communication relevant to the accident: We will reinforce adequate provision of information on the accident status and response and appropriate explanation about the radiation effect to the residents in the vicinity. Also, we will keep in mind that the future outlook on risk factors is included in the information delivered while incidents are ongoing status.

Adequate identification and forecast of the effect of released radioactive materials: The Japanese Government will improve the instrumentation and facilities to ensure release source information can be securely obtained. Also, it will develop a plan to effectively utilize the system for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information ( SPEEDI) and other systems to address various emergency cases and disclose the data and results from SPEEDI, etc. from the beginning of these cases.

Highlights from the report can be found here; the full report can be found here.

Update:  June 12 the NYT had a story of the evacuation incident…”If they had known earlier, they would have seen Speedi’s early projections that radiation from the Fukushima plant would be blown northwest…many of the residents around the plant who evacuated went north, on the assumption that winds blew south during winter in that area. That took them directly into the radioactive plume, he said — exposing them to the very radiation that they were fleeing.”

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