SIXTY years ago the advice came from Civil Defence films in which men with clipped BBC accents advised us of the need to “duck and cover”.
Today the protocol for dealing with a potential nuclear disaster is more concerned with getting the right cancer-fighting drugs to those living closest to power stations.
A new survival manual has been despatched to all 220 households within the 3km blast radius of Torness Nuclear Power Station in East Lothian – the region’s only nuclear plant.
Should the worst occur, warnings will be issued to homes via automated telephone messages, police loudspeakers and local broadcasts while residents are told to remain indoors and take anti-radiation tablets issued periodically by energy bosses.
Caches of the potassium iodate pills – deployed to protect against thyroid cancer – are understood to be stockpiled across East Lothian, but questions are now being asked about whether the precautions are far-reaching enough.
Since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan two years ago, campaigners have lobbied to increase the precautionary danger zone from around 15km to 30km – which would take in a 25,000-strong population from the towns of Dunbar, Haddington and North Berwick.
Ward councillor Paul McLennan said he would raise the issue with Health Secretary Alex Neil.
He said: “I’m concerned about it because there is no way these tablets could be distributed to people living 15 or 30km from Torness in the event of an emergency. I know people in the immediate area are supplied with the tablets and are renewed every so often.”
Chas Booth, Green councillor for Leith and a member of the Torness Local Liaison Committee said he was “astonished” Scottish authorities had failed to “learn the lessons from Fukushima and Chernobyl”.
He urged the Scottish Government to be more open.
He said: “The public are being asked to ‘trust us’, yet are not being told whether there are sufficient tablets to protect against the effects of radiation, or where those tablets are kept. Trust is built on transparency and openness, neither of which is in evidence here.
“With so many authorities passing the buck, it seems the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. I will continue to demand protection for the public and transparency from authorities. We must not allow another Fukushima to happen in Scotland.”
French firm EDF Energy, which runs Torness, said the decision to extend the provision of anti-radiation tablets lies with the health authorities and the police, adding that it planned for all eventualities and the chances of ever needing to use “countermeasures” such as potassium iodate pills, were “exceedingly low”.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The stockpile of potassium iodate tablets held in Scotland are part of a range of pharmaceutical countermeasures to deal with a range of incidents and threats, and as such locations cannot be released.”
The duck and cover method
UNTIL the 1980s, the duck and cover method of personal protection against the effects of a nuclear explosion was routinely taught in American schools and elsewhere.
It was intended to protect children in the event of an unexpected nuclear attack.
Immediately after they saw a flash, schoolchildren were taught to stop what they were doing and get on the ground under some sort of cover — such as a table, or at least next to a wall — and assume a prone-like position, lying face-down and covering their exposed skin and back of their heads with their clothes, or if no excess clothes such as a coat was available, to cover the back of their heads.