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News and Comment

David Willetts on Fukushima risk miscommunication

5 November 2012

Science Minister praises open letter on EU Energy Commissioner's response to Fukushima.

In a speech in October 2012, the Science Minister David Willetts criticised the EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger’s response in the aftermath of the Fukushima incident. Willetts applauded the open letter from scientists working with Sense about Science asking him to take up the issue.

“The public response of EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger to the serious accident at Fukushima is a case study in what goes wrong when all empirical assessment of risk is abandoned. He said ‘There is talk of an apocalypse and I think the word is particularly well-chosen. Practically everything is out of control. I cannot exclude the worst in the hours and days to come’. Several well-respected British scientists – including Jim Al-Khalili, Simon Singh and David Spiegelhalter – rightly complained about this intemperate statement in an open letter to me as science minister. The Coalition will challenge the EU robustly in cases where their decision making is devoid of scientific underpinning. In the wise words of the great experimental physicist Patrick Blackett father of Operational Research, we should ‘find numbers on which to base strategy not gusts of emotion’. I’m glad that, since the Fukushima incident, Scotland’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Anne Glover, has been appointed as the first Chief Scientific Adviser to the EU. She is doing an excellent job in that position. I believe she can contribute to the rational assessment of risk.”

A full version of the speech can be found here.

See the summary of correspondence (between March 2011 and February 2012) with the EU Commission which has refused to correct its presentation or answer questions about its use of evidence in risk communication.

See the letter from scientists, and read David Willetts' response.

Tags: Energy

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