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Communication during a nuclear disaster
How to communicate with the public during a nuclear emergency

Say for example you have a mini modular nuclear reactor for peaceful  use in the battlefield and it is hit by enemy fire.  Or maybe radioactive substances have been accidentally released at your hospital.  Or maybe a truck load of nuclear waste runs off the road in a snowstorm, or a barrel of nuclear waste explodes in your deep underground waste isolation plant.  Perhaps there is a nuclear powered vessel re-entry,  or a natural disaster triggered reactor core melt down and explosion.  Effective communication with the public is essential in restoring trust and insuring safety.

What if  there is a dirty bomb? Perhaps there was another incidence of corrupt handling of nuclear fuel or illegal dumping. Maybe another nuclear powered sub has sunk. Perhaps you and the nation are enjoying a nuclear renaissance, economigroth and jobscreation  but a solar flare has triggered an electromagnetic pulse of sufficient strength to destroy the cooling pumps and backup power generators to several spent fuel pools and now New York and several other cities along the eastern seaboard are within the evacuation zone....and there is transportation gridlock. You need a communications strategy. 

 Or lets say that routine, monthly shipment of 8 grams of Polonium210 from Russia...more than enough to kill every man woman and child in the U.S.....what if one of the shipments goes missing, or is lost when the carrier vehicle has an accident?  Or perhaps you have simply lost some more nuclear warheads.  Maybe that happens during the next nuclear war which some notable people are saying is more likely today than anytime since the Cuban missile crisis which very nearly launched nuclear armageddon. 

“Not since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis has the risk of a U.S.-Russian confrontation involving the use of nuclear weapons been as high as it is today,” 


more than one Fukushima level accident could occur somewhere in the world within the next decade. 

In a poll of experts at the Global Catastrophic Risk Conference in Oxford (17‐20 July 2008), the Future of Humanity Institute estimated the probability of complete human extinction by nuclear weapons at 1% within the century, the probability of 1 billion dead at 10% and the probability of 1 million dead at 30%.

Approximately 8 grams of 210Po are produced in Russia and shipped to the United States every month for commercial applications.
One gram of 210Po is enough to kill 50 million people and sicken another 50 million

In these instances, besides your ongoing commitment of creating jobs,  boosting economic growth, reducing your carbon footprint and keeping Americans safe, there may be an urgent need to communicate to the public. 

Fortunately, there are resources for communicating to the public.  Take some deep breaths and relax. The IAEA is there to help and to be a liason.  Remember, the Price–Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act has you covered


The IAEA has published some guides online and the following gives some idea of how we can communicate effectively with the public during a nuclear emergency;

Previous experience has demonstrated both the importance of, and the challenges involved in communicating with the public during a nuclear or radiological emergency.

One should be prepared with a strategy to communicate to the public. Its wise to know the public opinion about radiation risks, therefor surveys should be collected.  An analysis of social media can be used to capture public sentiment. Is there trust or distrust of the government, or of nuclear technology?

Consider your objectives.  Do you need an evacuation strategy, or perhaps you would like to prevent inappropriate or unnecessary action by individuals, like self evacuation and unjustified request for medical monitoring? Maybe there is a need to quell public fears and rumours. 

A few of the ideas which can help you communicate effectively;

Identify your target audience

be intimately Involved with the news media as well as social media.

Develop strategic key messages. 

It is important to educate the public to avoid misperception during an emergency.  Provide perspective by comparing the nuclear release to background radiation.

Make a list of participating organizations

List the national laws, codes or statutes that define responsibility for public communication.

Your public communication response organization forms part of the overall national level and international response framework.  

Your public communications plan should describe the government agencies and other organizations which will be responsible for providing support and resources,  and which will meet the roles and responsibilities for public communication during a radiation emergency.

The IAEA works with Member States and international organizations to release consistent, accurate and timely information to the public during a nuclear and radiological emergency.

Have a unified command which issues warnings, directives. Specific consideration should be given to monitoring for potential rumours on social media in real time, and arrangements should be made for responding to them quickly and forcefully to avoid further confusion and lack of trust in the responding organization

Respond to all media enquiries with a dedicated spokesperson, supported by press officers

develop a dedicated web site or portal

keep users of social media informed through facebook, twitter, blogs, etc

Develop simple graphics and maps

 use a trusted scientist or authority to deliver public messages.   Engage the public in citizen science projects with the guidance and oversight of a trusted science authority.   This makes the public feel involved and builds trust.

Use plain language.  

Keep your message confined to three to five key points and use one memorable sentence that take ten to fifteen seconds to say.

Talk about how nuclear benefits society.  Include jobs, security, quality of life etc.

actively monitor social media to see how effective your communication plan is

Artificial Intelligence can help support the digestion of all social media during events and ensure automatic appearance of correct information.  Social media global amplifiers can support an organization in communicating directly with the public

Get women involved as spokespersons;

Turkey has concentrated on the role of women in the development of effective
nuclear risk communication. The organization ‘Women in Nuclear Turkey’ designed and initiated a risk
communication project called NUKOM





the president has the authority to order a US nuclear-weapons strike at any time — a power that, in most cases, not even the highest career military commanders or cabinet members could stop him.

68% of Republicans were in favor of a nuclear strike on Iran

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On our current path, nuclear war is inevitable.

"The inevitability concept can best be understood by analogy to finance. It does not make sense to talk of an interest rate as being high or low, for example 50 percent or 1 percent, without comparing it to specific period of time. An interest rate of 50 percent per year is high. An interest rate of 50 percent per century is low. And the low interest rate of 1 percent per year builds up to a much larger interest rate, say 100 percent, when compounded over a sufficiently long time."

"In the same way, it does not make sense to talk about the probability of nuclear war being high or low -- for example 10 percent versus 1 percent -- without comparing it to a specific period of time -- for example, 10 percent per decade or 1 percent per year.
Having gotten the units right, we might argue whether the probability of nuclear war per year was high or low. But it would make no real difference. If the probability is 10 percent per year, then we expect the holocaust to come in about 10 years. If it is 1 percent per year, then we expect it in about 100 years."

"The lower probability per year changes the time frame until we expect civilization to be destroyed, but it does not change the inevitability of the ruin. In either scenario, nuclear war is 100 percent certain to occur."

Martin E. Hellman, P.h.D. 

Remember this;  mathematically, statistically speaking

  On our current path, nuclear war is inevitable.


Have you rehearsed your public communications strategy?

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