To ensure that adequate protective actions are in place for the public, a salient lesson learned from Fukushima is the necessity to improve the effectiveness of the off-site response, namely the effective implementation of protective actions in a nuclear emergency.
Among recent research on nuclear emergency, little attention has been paid to public participation, where the disconnect between the public and authorities, and its negative effect on emergency response exist. This study conducted an analytic discussion on the effectiveness of off-site nuclear emergency, from the standpoint of public participation.
The two key factors contributing to effective emergency responses in a nuclear emergency were identified to be the feasibility of emergency plans and the adequacy of emergency preparedness (EP), to which the passive role the public has been playing does no good. First, nuclear emergency plans are developed unilaterally by emergency managers and authorities, without the public involved. This government-centric planning process usually fails to meet the actual needs of the residents should a nuclear accident occur, consequently impairing the feasibility of emergency plans. As regards EP, emergency management’s efforts have long been dedicated to maintain the response capabilities of emergency response personnel, while overlooking the EP of the public. In this case, the public will not be well-prepared for an emergency.
Corresponding to the deficiencies stated above, possible solutions to improve the overall effectiveness of off-site emergency response were proposed, from the perspective of increasing public participation. First, to make emergency plans feasible and comprehensive, 1) the public can be incorporated in planning process to consider their needs in emergency plans, 2) emergency plans should be periodically assessed and updated accordingly, based on the up-to-date socio-demographic information. Second, to ensure the effective implementation of EP, 1) the public should be educated more on the knowledge of radiation protection and emergency response, in a participatory rather than informational way, 2) More-realistic nuclear exercises, such as evacuation drills of the population-at-risk, could be cautiously carried out, to test whether the public are well-prepared under emergency conditions. Finally, a precondition of broad public participation is that the public have interest in nuclear emergency. To this end, information communication technologies, should be widely utilized in nuclear emergency to generate public interest, by facilitating two-way communication and displaying the emergency-related information in an easy-to-read way.
This study indicates that nuclear emergency should not be a process dominated by emergency managers alone, since the public are not only the protected but also the true first responders in nuclear accidents. Wider public participation should be incorporated into the whole process of emergency management, from planning to preparedness, to maximize the effectiveness of the off-site response to a nuclear emergency.