New advice for managing nuclear accidents

07 September 2017

The European Commission-funded Shamisen project has published 28 recommendations to improve the preparedness and response to a nuclear accident. The recommendations follow an 18-month review of the response to previous accidents, particularly Chernobyl and Fukushima.

"One of the main lessons drawn is that the impact of a nuclear accident goes well beyond direct radiation effects and includes considerable psychological, social and economic consequences," Shamisen said. "Another major lesson is that some decisions taken to protect the populations can in fact cause collateral damage."

Shamisen notes there were no deaths related to radiation exposure reported in Fukushima, but the evacuation caused more than 600 premature deaths, particularly among the elderly and the critically ill patients who were evacuated under inadequate conditions.

The Shamisen project - coordinated by ISGlobal (Barcelona Institute for Global Health) - brought together 19 European and Japanese organisations, as well as American, Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian experts. It is funded by the European Commission's Euratom program in the framework of the Open Project for the European Radiation Research Area (OPERRA). The project started in December 2015 with the objective of producing a set of recommendations that would contribute to health surveillance and related communication with affected populations after nuclear accidents.

Existing recommendations, it said, had a technical focus, with less attention paid to social, ethical and psychological issues and the information tended to be directed towards the decisions made by experts rather than to support affected populations.

At the final meeting of the Shamisen project on 23 March, at the OECD headquarters in Paris, guidelines were presented that underline the importance of involving the population in the management of an accident and taking into account the economic and social upheavals and the psychological effects, particularly in the context of an emergency evacuation.


A set 28 recommendations has now been published aimed at improving preparedness for a nuclear accident, the early and intermediate phase and the long-term recovery phase. General principles that can be applied to other types of accidents and disasters were also identified. Each recommendation includes a 'why' (based on lessons learned), a 'how', and a 'who' (those responsible for implementing the recommendation).

The document includes recommendations to improve training of professionals, establish disease registries to know whether these diseases increase after an accident, and establish evacuation protocols and routes if necessary. It also says timely and reliable information on an accident situation and associated risks should be given, while radiation dose data should be collected. Following an accident, the main recommendations include establishing a dialogue between experts and affected communities. Support should also be given to populations that wish to take their own dose measurements so they can take informed decisions, such as on what food to eat, or whether and when to return to their homes.

Recommendations also include providing health screening of populations on a voluntary basis and with adequate counselling to avoid unnecessary anxiety. Long-term public health studies should only be launched when informative and sustainable over time, Shamisen said.

Shamisen will ensure the recommendations reach all relevant stakeholders - including local and national authorities and European and international organisations - so that they may guide policies aimed at improving the health and living conditions of populations affected by nuclear accidents.

"The document is a roadmap addressed to professionals and national and regional authorities to avoid repeating past mistakes," said Elisabeth Cardis, project coordinator and head of the radiation program at ISGlobal.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News