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UK emergency test: at least there was plenty of tea...

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(December 20, 2002) A test of how the UK emergency services would react if an airplane crashed into a nuclear reactor descended into confusion and farce as things kept going wrong. More recent tests in France were not much better.

(579.5476) WISE Amsterdam - The embarrassing results of the UK test were revealed in a confidential report obtained by the Independent on Sunday newspaper (1). The test, which was carried out on 10 May 2002, simulated what might happen if an aircraft crashed into Bradwell nuclear power station - which had been permanently closed a few weeks earlier. Problems with the test included:

  • the on-call doctor could not contact the ambulance paging service to confirm information
  • some officials thought the accident was at Sizewell rather than Bradwell nuclear power station
  • 50 emergency experts had trouble finding their way to the emergency coordination center
  • when they arrived, there were no identification checks on entering,
  • the emergency center was cramped and noisy and the restrooms were hard to find
  • the telephones kept getting cut off
  • some replies from the fax machine took hours to get through
  • lettering on the computer screen was in white, making it invisible when printed
  • and worst of all, potassium iodate tablets were distributed too late to be effective.

Still, BNFL concluded that it was "a successful demonstration of the ability to extend existing detailed emergency arrangements". After all, "there were plenty of refreshments throughout the day"!

French tests
More recent tests in France showed similar though perhaps less severe problems. Mayors from the area around Golfech nuclear power station met recently to evaluate the national "civil security" exercise carried on 14 November 2002. One complained that the fire brigade turned up too late and received inadequate information; another said that a fax he received lacked two important numbers; and a third described the whole exercise as "a bit of a farce" (2).

Everyone agreed that the sirens were hard to hear - a problem that recurred in another emergency test at the Cadarache nuclear complex on 5 December 2002, where the sirens were inaudible in houses with double-glazing (3). In that exercise, the mayors were also poorly informed: only one mayor received the alert directly, and then in turn contacted the mayors of the other villages.


  1. Independent on Sunday, 15 December 2002
  2. La Dépeche du Midi, 16 December 2002
  3. Report from Marc Faivet, 9 December 2002

Contact: WISE Amsterdam