Classing Fukushima with Chernobyl confused public, says report

The decision to class the Fukushima nuclear accident on the same level as Chernobyl has been branded “confusing” and demonstrates that the scale for rating such disasters is “not up to the job” according to MPs from the UK.

Members of the Science and Technology Committee believe putting the Japanese catastrophe on a par with Chernobyl misrepresented it to the public.

And it is calling for independent regulators to take a more prominent role in communicating all aspects of energy decisions to the public, as it believes government “is not seen as an impartial source of information”.

In a report out today, the committee states that it was a mistake to class Fukushima at the same ‘level seven’ magnitude as Chernobyl as there were “significantly lower levels of radioactive material released into the atmosphere and no deaths directly attributable to the accident”.

Committee chairman Andrew Miller said: “Fukushima was no Chernobyl, but the public were left with a confusing picture of the real risks from the accident partly because it was classed as the same magnitude.

“Although tens of thousands died as a result of the earthquake and tsunami, to date nobody has died, or received a life-threatening dose of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear accident and no one is expected to.”

He added that “the accident has made it clear that the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale is not up-to-the-job. The International Atomic Energy Agency should come up with a better and more accurate way of communicating the risks involved in any future nuclear accident.”

The committee’s report also urges independent regulators to be more vocal in communicating the risks associated with energy generation and distribution.

It states that public distrust of governments as providers of risk information is evident across Europe and adds that the UK government’s “position as an advocate for nuclear power makes it difficult for the public to trust it as an impartial source of information”.

It suggests “technically competent” and independent public bodies such as the Health & Safety Executive and the Office for Nuclear Regulation “are in a much better position to engender public trust and influence risk perceptions”.

Miller added: “The public must be able to trust the information it receives on the risks of nuclear power and other energy technologies, such as [shale gas] fracking or carbon capture and storage. Developing the public profile of independent regulators as trusted and authoritative sources may be one way of increasing public trust and understanding of such risks.”

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