Policy and Political Action

Policy & Political Action

Nuclear emergency response

My name is Kerrie Pickering, president of RNAO’s Ontario Nurses for the Environment Interest Group. On behalf of RNAO, I urge the Ontario government adhere to the precautionary principle and develop a strong emergency preparedness plan regarding nuclear risks on the Great Lakes.

RNAO is very concerned about the health risks and costs of nuclear power, and we urge that as long as Ontario continues to run nuclear plants, it must act in accordance with best practices and develop a comprehensive nuclear emergency plan to reduce the risks to the public.
The 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster provides important lessons:

  1. Nurses are at the frontlines when disasters happen and must be fully involved in the planning processes.
  2. The planning must be comprehensive, and for nurses would include preparations for: radiation exposure screening, triage; decontamination; treatment for radiation; treatment for increases of other medical conditions; evacuation and attending to the needs of evacuated people.
  3. Planning must ensure identification and commitment of all necessary resources, which would include key hospitals and other health facilities, decontamination centres, equipment, materials and personnel.
  4. To ensure resources can be rapidly mobilized in the event of a disaster, it is essential that personnel involved receive appropriate training. For example, nurses must learn to identify vulnerable populations in the shadow of nuclear plants. Nurses trained to screen for acute radiation syndrome can identify people with the highest priority for treatment. Nurses will also need to know how to best decontaminate exposure victims and how to handle contaminated clothes and water. Nurses must thoroughly wash and cover all wounds to minimize contamination. Food and fluids must be covered to reduce ingestion of radiation.

Dealing with the fear and anxiety associated with a nuclear event is also important. When the disaster at Fukushima occurred, nurses were afraid to come to the hospital or long-term care homes where they worked because they did not know if they were in danger. Training will reduce this problem. When nurses understand the health consequences, they can direct the general public keep people calm. This is especially important when evacuations are required and displaced people need treatment and comfort.
If a nuclear disaster happened now, few Ontario nurses have the benefit of this kind of training. We must learn the lessons from the Fukushima disaster so we can prepare nurses and the health system to cope with a worst-case nuclear scenario.
Thank you

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Speaking Notes