Interior Minister Jan Jambon and Public Health Minister Maggie De Block launched a national information campaign on 6 March to prepare the population to respond to a nuclear accident. Why seek to educate citizens and why now? Explanations with Benoît Ramacker, Spokesman of the Crisis Center.
Is risk more important today?
This is a question we are often asked, and the answer is of course no. Informing the public about nuclear risk is first and foremost a European obligation, as is the Seveso risk in the event of a chemical accident. Other campaigns have already been carried out, especially in 2011, just after the Fukushima disaster, but also in 2002 and 1999. This new reminder was launched on March 6 because, after several months of consultation with our partners, the Nuclear Emergency Plan, dating from 1991, has been updated and published in the Moniteur belge.
What does this new nuclear emergency plan consist of?
It concretely allows the authorities to prepare for an emergency situation. Above all, they have to sit around a table to discuss the actions to be taken, both at the local level (a bourgmestre with the police and firefighters, for example) and at national level (between the Crisis Center, the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control, Public Health, Foreign Affairs, Mobility …). This emergency preparation phase is essential to define in particular the procedures to be implemented in the event of an incident. Because even if the Minister of the Interior is led to coordinate a crisis situation at the national level, a mayor will also have actions to implement.
Why so much to raise awareness of the population?
She has to get ready. Everyone is led to be a player in their security and react well. If we react badly, either we will endanger ourselves, or we will disrupt the work of police officers, emergency doctors or firefighters. In addition to the need for iodine tablets for children, citizens need to know about other tips.
What are they ?
Practical help is available online for families, it’s called monplandurgence.be In seven steps, a family can get ready and have a small family emergency plan that they can put in a drawer or display on their fridge. Everyone can also register on BE-Alert.be to receive an alert in case of a nuclear accident. We launched this system more than 8 months ago and we already have 300,000 people registered. It’s important to tell people that if the authorities are getting ready, they can do it too. It is a whole education in risk culture that does not exist much in Belgium and that we must bring. This evolution of mentalities will certainly take a generation, but we must start so that people learn.
The primary security managers are the nuclear and radiological site operators. How do they ensure security?
They put in place security systems that are redundant. Take the metaphor of the trousers: for a pants to fit, we have a button, a belt, suspenders and sometimes hands in the pockets. It’s a whole system of security barriers. In addition to the operator’s controls, the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) ensures the secure operation of the sites on a daily basis. As soon as there is the slightest doubt, the Agency stops the plants, as we have often seen. If ever a nuclear accident occurs, the Crisis Center intervenes with all the authorities. That’s when the plan is put in place.
What are the safety systems that monitor radioactivity?
On the whole Belgian territory, there is a network of 250 measuring points which constantly assess the radioactivity in the air. These are called Telerad tags. This collected data is public on the website telerad.be . In the event of a nuclear accident, experts meet at the Crisis Center to analyze the data since, unfortunately, the radioactivity is odorless, colorless and tasteless. It is thanks to these tags but possibly also to other samples that one can determine the severity of an accident as well as the good recommendations to provide to the population.
Is this control system reliable?
This is reliable since Telerad tags detect radioactivity continuously. As soon as there is a movement, these beacons watch it and record it. That does not mean that as soon as there is a little more radioactivity, it is necessary to trigger the nuclear emergency plan or take actions to protect the population and the environment. It is the role of the Nuclear Agency to ensure on a daily basis the safety of the farms and the Crisis Center to act in the event of an accident.
This article is part of the communication campaign launched by the Crisis Center. This campaign aims to inform the population about the risks in the event of a nuclear accident, so that they can prepare themselves and know how to react.
© Crisis Center