Sat, Mar 19, 2011 - Page 5 News List

JAPAN DISASTER: Contradiction abounds in crisis advice

CONFLICTING CLAIMS:The ‘erratic’ information released by Japanese officials has left foreign governments in the lurch as they try to inform their citizens about what to do

The Guardian

Official and public dismay mounted on Thursday at the conflicting advice and contradictory statements being put out about the Japanese nuclear crisis by embassies, scientists, governments and industry bodies.

As conditions at the stricken plant remained far from under control, the British Foreign Office advised Britons to “consider” leaving Tokyo.

This contradicted a statement from professor John Beddington, the UK’s chief scientific officer, who insisted that even a worst-case scenario — of complete meltdown, combined with adverse weather and wind conditions blowing radiation over Japan’s most populated areas — would not cause a serious safety problem.

In a recorded conversation with the British embassy in Tokyo, Beddington said: “If you then couple that [a complete meltdown] with the worst possible weather situation and you had maybe rainfall, which would bring the radioactive material down — do we have a problem? The answer is unequivocally no. Absolutely no issue. The problems are within 30km of the reactor. Beyond that 20 or 30km, it’s really not an issue for health.”

However, the embassy officially urges UK nationals to stay 80km from the stricken the plant “as an additional precautionary measure,” at the same time urging them to follow advice by the Japanese government — to stay put indoors if between 20km and 30km distance of the reactors.

The British advice differed from other western countries. The US, Canada and Australia recommended that citizens who were within 80km of the plant should evacuate or take shelter indoors. However, France has advised all citizens in Japan to leave Tokyo for the next few days.

Those close to the nuclear plants, said the French embassy in Tokyo, “should stay indoors, close down venting systems and stock bottles of water and food for many hours. When venturing outside, a breathing mask should be worn.”

The conflicting advice appears partly to be due to a lack of information from the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power, which operates the plant.

This boiled over on Thursday with China calling on Japan to provide accurate information swiftly in order to control a rumors sweeping the region about possible dangers.

“We hope the Japanese side will release information to the public in a timely and precise manner, as well as its evaluation and prediction of the situation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu (姜瑜) said.

“There’s clearly an erratic quality to the information coming out from the Japanese,” said Edwin Lyman, of the US non-governmental organization the Union of Concerned scientists. “I would urge the authorities to be as realistic as possible rather than taking a complacent view of how things will turn out.”

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Yukiya Amano also said he wanted more timely and detailed information.

“We do not have all the details, so what we can do is limited,” Amano said.

A major study in 2007, presented to the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security in 2008, of what messages people wanted to hear and who they would trust after a nuclear disaster found that local officials, such as firemen, were trusted above prime ministers or scientists, and that people did not want “sugar-coating.”

John Ullyot, of the global PR company Hill and Knowlton, which surveyed 1,000 people, said: “They wanted early and accurate information and they wanted to know just how bad the situation was so they could make the best decisions for themselves and their families.”

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