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March 19, 2011

No current health issue, even modest radiation issues in Tokyo extremely unlikely – British government

Teaching-English-in-Japan-Education-Earthquake-Japan-Beddington" The transcript of a second conference call held yesterday with Sir John Beddington, the Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK, is now online at the British Embassy's website.

Asked why the the British government had advised British nationals to "consider leaving" Tokyo, Sir John pointed to the cumulative effect of power cuts, food shortages and new developments at Fukushima, including the status of the spent fuel pools at reactor 4.

Commenting on the change, Sir John noted: "Even in [the] worst case scenario, and I would emphasise that this is an extremely unlikely case, even if that happened the level of radiation around Tokyo would be extremely modest. Although there would be radiation increases, even in this extreme case, the effect on human health could be substantially mitigated by just taking very simple precautions. By essentially staying indoors whilst the plume of radiation passed over, not having your ventilation on, and keeping your windows closed. These measures would mitigate any significant risks to human health."

He continued: "...I would emphasise again that this is assuming the most plausible worst case for the nuclear side of it, coupled with the most plausible worst case scenario for weather."

When asked under what circumstances the government would advise that British nationals should actually leave rather than "consider leaving", his response was: "Obviously if our worst case analysis was wrong and we started to see significant emissions greater than we had actually anticipated in our worst case." Such scenarios were described as implausible and not sensible to model.

Please view the transcript online here.

(Many thanks to Roger Berman for his help with our speedy initial reporting of this conference call.)

In related news, the British Embassy has decided, as a special precautionary measure only, to make available iodine tablets to British nationals. The Embassy is advising however that these tablets should NOT BE TAKEN in the current situation by those outside of the exclusion zone (80KM), only in the extremely unlikely event that radiation levels in Tokyo were to increase in a way which would result from a worst case scenario.

The UK still holds that for those outside the exclusion zone set up by the Japanese authorities there is currently no real human health issue that people should be concerned about.

World Health Organziation
The World Health Organization's spokesperson Gregory Hartl was reported by NHK today (Saturday) as saying that there was no radiation risk outside of the Japan government's 20KM evacuation zone. He confirmed that the WHO finds no public health reason to avoid travel to Japan, except to the affected areas, or to recommend that foreign nationals leave the country.

[Editor's Note: As we expect no major developments on the reactor front that we can usefully report, we will be ending our news items in this area unless circumstances change dramatcially. We will now focus on what can be done with regard to the real problems in the north east of Japan, and news related to English language teaching in Japan. For reliable sources of updates, please see our previous summary of news and resources. An excellent source of information and links is .]

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Whilst maintaining that there is no current risk to human health outside of the exclusion zone set up by the Japan authorities (a view echoed by the WHO as you report), the British government has made these changes to the advice given to British nationals.

It's clear this is due to the need for the government to "be seen to be doing something" in the face of irresponsible, inaccurate and sensationalized news reports in the British and international media, rather than a rational reflection of the science advice they are getting.

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