LC Urgent Q2: Contingency measures for radiation leak at nuclear plant in Japan

     Following is a question by the Hon Kam Nai-wai under Rule 24(4) of the Rules of Procedure and a reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Ambrose S K Lee, in the Legislative Council yesterday (March 16):


     In view of the severity and urgency of the incident of radiation leak at the Fukushima nuclear plant ("Fukushima plant") in Japan, and the Central Government commencing its evacuation of Chinese nationals from certain areas of Japan, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it has made enquiries with the Japanese government on the situations of the various nuclear reactors at the Fukushima plant and information relating to the leak of various types of radioactive materials and radiation; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(b) whether it has assessed the probability and possible extent of Hong Kong being affected by the radiation leak incident; if it has, of the details; what contingency measures it has at present to deal with the situation where Hong Kong is affected by the radiation leak incident; whether it has assessed the risk and probability of similar type of crises occurring at the Daya Bay nuclear plant; if it has, of the details and its contingency measures for that; and

(c) whether it has assessed if Hong Kong has enough manpower, equipment, drugs and related resources to deal with incidents of Hong Kong being affected by a radiation leak, and whether relevant drills have been conducted; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; whether it will arrange health check-ups for people who returned to Hong Kong from Japan recently; if it will, of the details and the timetable; if not, the reasons for that; and what plan it has to help Hong Kong people who are currently stranded in Japan to return to Hong Kong?



     My consolidated reply to the three parts of the question is as follows:

The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Incident in Japan

     Japan is a member state of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), bearing the responsibility to notify the IAEA of any nuclear incident or accident according to the guidelines.  We understand that, since the earthquake at the outer sea of the Miyagi Prefecture on March 11, the Japanese Government has been notifying the IAEA of the nuclear power plant incident and publicising the latest news to the international community through public channels.

     According to the Japanese Government, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant suffered the major impact of the earthquake.  The nuclear power plant has six reactor units. In the past few days, the cooling systems of reactor units 1 to 4 have been malfunctioning respectively.  The nuclear power plant has taken various measures of cooling by injecting water to the reactor vessels.  Based on information from various sources and local nuclear expert's assessment, despite the fact that there have been reports of explosion or fire at the concerned reactor units, there is no evidence to show severe damage of the outer shell of the reactor according to the present assessment and thus no evidence to suggest emissions of radioactivity caused by the release of a large amount of radioactive matters from the reactor core. Japan has classified this event as a level 4 "Accident with Local Consequences" on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES), in which the highest level is level 7.  The Japanese authorities have taken measures to evacuate residents within the 20-kilometre zone around the nuclear power plant and request residents living within the 20 to 30 kilometres range from the plant to stay indoors, which is consistent with the international standard.  At the same time, the Japanese Government is publicising twice a day the radiation dose rate measurements of different parts of the country.  We are monitoring the incident development around the clock.

     Numerous experts have explained the incident to the public in these few days.  The Hong Kong Observatory (HKO) has stated that for the past few days to the next few days, the air masses reaching Hong Kong during the period mainly comes from the Mainland China and the vicinity of Hong Kong instead of Japan.  Therefore Hong Kong basically will not be affected by the radiation from Japan.  Yesterday Mr Leung Kwong-ho, Chairman of the Energy Advisory Committee, explained from an engineering point of view that the diffusion rate of radiation is 1 over 30,000 for every five kilometres.  Therefore the radiation impact on public health is fairly low for an area outside the 20-kilometre zone of the nuclear power plant, for example Tokyo which is 250 kilometres away from the Fukushima Prefecture.

Assisting Hong Kong Residents in Japan

     After the earthquake, the HKSAR Government has activated the 24-hour Emergency Monitoring and Support Centre to closely monitor the development of the incident.  Ten members of staff of the Immigration Department have been despatched to set up health desks at the Narita and Haneda airports with staff of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Tokyo to render any practicable assistance to Hong Kong residents in need there.

     We have also been closely liaising with the airlines.  So far, the flights from different parts of Japan (including Tokyo) to Hong Kong remain normal.  On the other hand, airlines have promised to increase flights from Tokyo to Hong Kong to bring back Hong Kong residents who wish to return earlier.  I also appeal to Hong Kong tourists who are in Tokyo to stay calm and pay attention to the announcement of the local government.  Those residents who wish to return to Hong Kong earlier may contact airlines or our assistance hotline "1868" for help. We have secured the co-operation of local airlines to provide sufficient flights and seats to travellers in need.

     As said, the Japanese Government has classified the event at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant as a level 4 "Accident with Local Consequences" on the INES.  Based on international experts' advice, an evacuation or other special measures should only be targeted at the 20-kilometre zone around the nuclear power plant with radiation leak.  According to the Japanese Government, the 20-kilometre zone around Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has been cordoned off since March 12 and visitors were barred from entering the area.  Hence, the risk of visitors in popular travel destinations, such as Tokyo which is 250 kilometres away from the nuclear power plant or Osaka which is even further away, contaminating from direct radiation should not be high.  Therefore, it is not necessary to impose compulsory radiation check on travellers from Japan, and Hong Kong residents should not be over anxious.

     However, considering the possible concern of residents returning from Japan, we have, in conjunction with the Airport Authority, set up a health desk at the airport.  Travellers who are worried about their radiation exposure may seek assistance.

Local Situations in Hong Kong

     In Hong Kong, the HKO has set up ten radiation monitoring stations within the territory which operate around the clock and transmit data back to the Observatory every minute.  The HKO has also collected air samples to examine for radioactive elements.  After the earthquake, the HKO has been closely monitoring the Japanese Fukushima nuclear power plant incident and has activated the Monitoring and Assessment Centre to monitor the radiation level within the territory.  The HKO has also increased the examination frequency from once every few days to once a day.  Up to now, the HKO's monitoring results have indicated that the radiation level of Hong Kong is normal.

     Besides, we understand that the National Nuclear Safety Administration of the Ministry of Environmental Protection has requested the other provincial environmental protection departments to strengthen the monitoring.  We note that the coastal regions including Liaoning, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Shanghai, Fuzhou and Guangdong etc. have already activated monitoring system.  In particular, Shanghai has activated the state-of-the-art "super high volume aerosol sampler" which is able to take sample of 1,000 cubic metre per hour and take sample within the shortest time to test for abnormal radioactivity in the atmosphere.  The monitoring results have indicated no abnormal radioactivity within the territory of China.  Hong Kong is further away from Japan than the Mainland coastal region just mentioned and thus our assessment that Hong Kong will not be affected by the radiation from Japan is consistent with the Mainland monitoring results.

     The HKO will continue to closely liaise with the Mainland meteorological authorities and they will immediately inform HKO for following up if abnormal radiation level is detected in the Mainland.  If necessary, the HKO will further step up the monitoring by sending mobile survey teams to measure the radiation level and radioactive plume within the Hong Kong territory.

Daya Bay Contingency Plan

     The Daya Bay Nuclear Power Stations are located in an area where no earthquake of magnitude 6 or above has ever taken place.  In fact, Hong Kong and the Daya Bay area are not situated on an active fault zone, nor within an area with geological conditions vulnerable to severe earthquakes.  In this regard, the chance of serious destruction caused by the occurrence of severe earthquakes is slim.  Unlike the Fukushima nuclear power plant which adopts the "boiling water reactor" design, the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Stations adopt the "pressurised water reactor" design.  Each reactor in Daya Bay is protected by three tiers of barrier to prevent the leak of radioactive matter from the core.  In addition, a multiple protective mechanism is in place.  Even if one of the protective systems fails, there are still many stand-by options, which will be automatically activated, to ensure that various safety targets are met.  The design has a well-proven safety record world-wide.

     To minimise the possible impact of any incident on Hong Kong's public health and safety, the HKSAR Government had put in place a Daya Bay Contingency Plan before the power stations were up and running.  The roles of all relevant departments, the work they are required to conduct, and the necessary protective equipments in the event of an incident are all set out in the Contingency Plan, which has been uploaded to the website of the Security Bureau.  Details of the Contingency Plan are available for public access.  The Plan has listed out the roles to be undertaken by all relevant departments in the event of radiation leakage.  The departments are equipped with protective gear that meet their operational needs and appropriate medication (including iodine tablets), which are available for use by frontline staff and members of the public in need when necessary.  We have been regularly inspecting and renewing all types of protective and inspection equipments.  Drills on radiation leakage are also conducted from time to time to ensure the personnel of departments concerned are able to handle the incidents effectively.  In light of the current nuclear incident in Japan, the HKSAR Government has immediately reviewed and confirmed that all concerned reactor units have sufficient manpower, equipments and ancillary measures to handle any possible nuclear incidents in Hong Kong.

Ends/Thursday, March 17, 2011
Issued at HKT 00:54