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AUCKLAND CITY HARBOUR NEWS, MAY 29, 2013
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About fallout -- there and here
It was a neat one (or maybe two)
liner. I remember it well. I realise it
mightn t click with everyone -- but
I ve got good reasons for giving it a
It goes like this:
There was a guy who read so
much about the dangers of smoking
that he gave up reading!
Why did this slip into my recall?
Because I d just read the latest
conflicting specialist reports on
Then -- quite accidentally -- I pick-
ed up a letter which again faulted
Auckland s emergency services and
rejected the last confident official
assessment in this column.
But first, those varying views on
aftermath of the Japanese tsunami
and the wrecking of the atomic
energy plant in its path.
Al Jazeera s Steve Chao reports:
Forests covering 70 per cent of
the Fukushima Prefecture have
high concentrations of radioactive
Not only in fallen leaves and soil,
but in the trees themselves. The
findings suggest radiation is per-
meating into the ecosystem.
The government is spending bil-
lions of dollars decontaminating
towns in Fukushima, but the forests
continue emitting radioactivity.
Jason Clenfield took up the
Every morning, 3000 cleanup
workers don hooded hazard suits,
air-filtered face masks and multiple
glove layers. Most gear is radioac-
tive waste by the end of the day.
Everything that touches it becomes
toxic. It goes into thousands of
waste bags stored in shielded con-
Rows of tanks hold enough
irradiated water to fill 100 Olympic
pools on the plateau overlooking
Daiichi s four ruined reactors.
And the water keeps coming.
It may be eight years before radi-
ation levels fall enough to let work-
ers remove 260 tons of melted
That process took more than a
decade at the US accident on Three
Mile Island, a partial meltdown at a
single reactor with one-fifth the
amount of fuel at Fukushima.
The other report, from Ben Schil-
ler, under a heading: Forget Fuku-
shima, Nuclear Power Has Saved
1.8 Million Lives sums up:
Two researchers at NASA s God-
dard Institute of Space Studies cal-
culate the damage if the world
hadn t had nuclear power for the
last several decades, and what dam-
age might be caused if communities
don t embrace the technology.
Pushker Kharecha and James
Hansen estimate that 4900 people
died through nuclear power
between 1971 and 2009, mostly
from workplace accidents and radi-
But, they say 370 times more peo-
ple (1.84 million) would have died,
had the same power been generated
from fossil fuels.
The scientists figures are based
on estimates of mortality caused by
pollution, which killed 1.2 million
people in China in 2010.
Their research is that no deaths
have been attributed in a scientifi-
cally valid manner to radiation
from the other two major accidents
-- Three Mile Island in 1979, where
a 20-year comprehensive scientific
health assessment was done, and at
But a United Nations study of the
1986 Chernobyl accident, the worst
in history, insists that only 43 peo-
ple died, including 15 first respon-
And while we re at it, Auckland
has a situation very much smaller
in scale, the crucial fallout is in fact
The difference so far: Retired
long-serving civil defence man Gary
Westbury highlighted problems in
super-city centralised emergency
services, controlled from a central
Civil Defence supreme Clive Man-
ley replied: All is well.
Totally unconvinced, Gary now
asks are we waiting for a major
emergency to resolve worrying
issues about the ability of key
services to cope with disaster?
His reaction, headed Auckland
city s growing risk :
Warnings of probable flaws in
the emergency management plan-
ning for a major disaster in Auck-
land have been fobbed off by the
current Civil Defence management,
but criticism has been supported by
many who are, or were, closer to
reality. One major flaw is having all
your eggs in one basket with only
one centre for all communication.
Responding to, or even replying
to, every message at the start and
during a disaster at all levels (local,
regional, national, and operational)
is impractical and ridiculous. They
do not have the staff.
Gaps in their emergency com-
munication networks are serious
(and secret) but have not, or cannot,
Local communities are an inte-
gral part of Civil Defence but they
will suffer as Auckland grows, all
services and the infrastructure
become overloaded and resources
They do not have any actual
bases to work from, clearly visible
identification, or authority to man-
age people before or during a disas-
Volunteers disappearing rapidly
have not been replaced fast enough.
Local emergency response/rescue
teams have been isolated and must
now operate separately from emerg-
ency services -- contrary to what
they told us about their so-called
Local community support has
diminished as local Civil Defence
operational centres have been shut
down or become ineffective under
this regime. There s a lot of lip ser-
vice on how great things are but
that s far from the truth.
No real major training exercises
have been held for years. A few
minor and restricted desktop exer-
cises were done at top level.
Although satisfying their man-
agement ideas of efficiency, these
never really tested the whole city
civil defence system.
Previous planning by local civil
defence officials has been ignored,
again contrary to what we are asked
to believe. There are no standard
procedures across the super-city to
get local assistance or alternative
Deciding on the day is not good
To rely on cellphones or internet
in the early stages of a disaster
would be a disaster in itself. How
effective would the alert be at night
when most are sleeping? That is
Local communications in any
emergency are vital, but changes
here have weakened many long-
established and proven local
networks. How they expect to get
information rapidly from any of
many incident locations is now a
serious question and the community
Not all disasters are visual or
violent (like earthquakes or tsuna-
mis). If the super-city loses its
power supply for days or weeks,
that will be a major disaster. Think
about it: No water or sewerage
pumps, no petrol, no refrigeration,
no ATMs, no supermarkets, over-
loaded communications, crowded
roads or highways, and more.
With the increasing city popu-
lation, stretched infrastructure,
more high-rise housing, and chang-
ing climate, the likelihood of real
disaster is growing.
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