Nuclear safety drill a valid exercise

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 April, 2012, 12:00am


A year after the disastrous nuclear leak in northeastern Japan, Hong Kong carried out its biggest drill to date in order to test the ability of emergency services to respond to a major accident at the Daya Bay nuclear power station in Guangdong. The chief executive and over 1,000 staff from more than 30 government departments took part. The two-day exercise involved evacuating residents of an outlying island, radiation scanning for livestock and vegetables and other decontamination operations. Additionally, foreign experts were brought in to observe. The 'events' were widely reported overseas.

The government has seemingly made every effort to make the drill as serious as possible. However, critics maintained that it was too tightly planned an operation and that public participation was limited. In short, it was just a show. The operation was based on a relatively mild scenario, they said. Some procedures also appeared not to have been well thought through. Some officers sent to the scene did not wear protective gear; and announcements from loudhailers were drowned out by the noise from helicopters. This is exactly why the drill was needed - to find out how capable we are of coping with major incidents. These inadequacies should be reviewed by the authorities.

That said, a drill is a drill. No matter how real it looks, it is only a simulation of what may happen. With everything unfolding according to the official script, the exercise inevitably gives the impression that it is just a show. Under the existing contingency plan, only the uninhabited island of Ping Chau falls within the 20-kilometre evacuation zone. Should a leak occur in Daya Bay, the panic in the entire city would be unthinkable. No matter how well prepared we are in a mock-up, a real disaster would be a different scenario.

The risk of nuclear fallout has haunted the city since the 1980s. But the fear probably stems from a lack of knowledge and confidence. The drill will have helped identify inadequacies, upon which we can improve. It should be taken seriously by both government and people.