Jacob's radio performance fails to reassure public

The Government's national emergency plan for nuclear accidents ranked among the best in Europe, the Minister of State for energy…

The Government's national emergency plan for nuclear accidents ranked among the best in Europe, the Minister of State for energy, Mr Joe Jacob, said yesterday.

Speaking prior to the Government's statement last night, he told listeners to RT╔'s Marian Finucane show he had spent the past two years upgrading and updating the plan, which he described as "state of the art".

Listeners to the show, however, took a different view, with RT╔ reporting hundreds of calls from people complaining about Mr Jacob's performance. One caller said: "If this is the best the country can produce to devise any sort of early-warning plan then we are in serious trouble."

Another said the interview confirmed the Government's response to an attack was to "stick your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye".


Mr Jacob had described the nuclear threat as the most relevant to Ireland because of our close proximity to nuclear installations in Britain.

The Republic was protected by an early-warning system of radiation monitors, which were manned on a 24-hour basis, he said. In addition, under international agreements, other countries were obliged to warn us of incidents as soon as they occurred.

Mr Jacob said accidents in Sellafield had been concealed in the past but, he said, the Government had built up "very strong" links with Britain since and "I believe that (with) the rapport that exists at the moment ... that the bilateral arrangement for an early-warning situation would be honoured."

Mr Jacob confirmed the emergency plan would be tested in a simulated exercise in the coming fortnight and within weeks of that, he said, a fact sheet would be sent to "every home in Ireland", detailing what should be done in the case of an emergency.

Asked what advice would be given to the public, the Minister said "that information will be issued based on the technical expertise that will assess the situation when it happens, the scale of the incident, the potential of the incident deteriorating or whatever."

Speculating about what would happen if a plane crashed into Sellafield, he said: "We're talking about a very, very major accident, something that a great power like the United States was not geared to cope with last week. We would tell people the situation and they would know from again this famous fact sheet that I am talking about.

"We would say: 'Please remain indoors. Please stay with your doors and windows closed. Switch off your ventilation systems. We want to minimise your exposure to levels of radiation that are currently, God forbid, out of doors'."

He said people would also be told to take iodine tablets and avoid eating contaminated food or water. Farmers would be advised to move cattle indoors where possible.

Asked how people could get hold of iodine tablets after taking shelter, Mr Jacob replied: "The Department of Health will have stocks of these. That's one of the things that has to be tweaked and finalised in the coming weeks."

Pressed further, he said "That will be in the fact sheet when it gets to your home."

Asked whether he knew what was in the fact sheet, he replied: "I have it in my hand so I know exactly what's in the fact sheet."

He said it was possible iodine distribution centres would be established.

He was also considering sending a vial of iodine to each home with the sheet.

Regarding the threat of biological or chemical warfare, Mr Jacob said he was not qualified to talk about this except to say it was considered "highly unlikely that as a small nuclear country Ireland would be targeted in such a way ... I beg your pardon, I've got nuclear on the brain now. A small neutral country."

He added that in considering such threats "we mustn't be alarmistic. We must be reassuring."

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times and writer of the Unthinkable philosophy column