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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

Both the reactors and the surrounding areas should be taken into account

July 10, 2013


58 municipalities near nuclear plants could have isolated areas in event of disaster



Fifty-eight municipalities in Japan that lie within a 30 kilometer radius of a nuclear power plant house settlements that could become isolated in the event of a combined earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, a Mainichi survey has found.

New standards introduced by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) to check the safety of nuclear power plants before they are restarted requires nuclear facilities to prepare themselves for a severe accident. But there are no stipulations on disaster countermeasures for surrounding areas, including communities that could become cut off in the event of a disaster. Experts warn that in restarting reactors, it is essential for the government to include surrounding areas in its safety evaluations.

Under the Basic Law on Disaster Control Measures, the 136 cities, towns and villages located within 30 kilometers of a nuclear power plant -- spanning 21 prefectures -- are required to compile disaster prevention plans to prepare for a nuclear accident. A major challenge for some municipalities has been the formulation of plans for communities whose evacuation routes would be limited in the event of a nuclear disaster and which could become cut off due to disaster damage, leaving residents with nowhere to turn.

The Mainichi polled disaster management officials in 123 municipalities spread out over 20 prefectures excluding Fukushima. The detached settlements that officials in 58 municipalities said could become isolated are located mainly in the mountains and on peninsulas. A number of municipalities have incorporated plans to evacuate residents using Self-Defense Force helicopters, Japan Coast Guard vessels, or fishing boats, while others are considering such plans. Yet officials still harbor concerns.

"The transportation capacity of helicopters and boats is limited, and I wonder if we could actually use them if it came down to it," one official in the Hokkaido town of Shakotan said.

Another official in Ayabe, Kyoto Prefecture, commented, "Thinking about the geographical conditions and the cost involved, road maintenance is unrealistic, and we can only make preparations within our capacity."

Meanwhile, a representative from the Ehime Prefecture city of Ozu commented, "In a worst-case scenario, we would have no option but to have residents wait it out indoors."

The International Atomic Energy Agency specifies five levels of safeguards for nuclear power plants, and emphasizes not only measures to counter a serious accident, but disaster prevention measures for surrounding areas. The NRA's new standards legally require safeguards against earthquakes, tsunamis, and serious accidents like the one that struck Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. If a power company applies to restart a nuclear reactor, the authority will screen the application to determine whether safety measures meet its standards. However, the authority maintains that evacuation plans for surrounding areas are the responsibility of municipal governments, and that it is difficult to determine whether the government has adopted sufficient countermeasures.

Hitoshi Yoshioka, a Kyushu University professor who served as a member of the government's investigation committee on the Fukushima disaster, commented, "You can only call a plan safe after having taken measures for both the nuclear facility and the surrounding area. The system should be reformed so that the NRA can take the initiative and confirm and verify safety, covering surrounding areas

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