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

NRA's disaster countermeasures - An awful lot of challenges

October 22, 2012

 

Editorial: Resident-oriented countermeasures against nuclear disasters needed

http://mainichi.jp/english/english/perspectives/news/20121022p2a00m0na005000c.html

 

 

The government's Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) is drawing up new guidelines for countermeasures against nuclear disasters, which will detail measures to evacuate residents near nuclear plants in case of an accident.


The pillar of the new guidelines is the expansion of the disaster countermeasures priority zone -- from the current 8-10 kilometers from a nuclear power station to 30 kilometers. The NRA will complete the guidelines by the end of this month after consulting with local governments hosting such power stations. The authority is urged to work out measures oriented toward local residents that respond to the real situation of each region.


The new guidelines are based on safety standards set by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). If there is a fear of a serious accident at a nuclear plant, the authorities are required to instruct residents within five kilometers from the power station to flee and those within 30 kilometers from the plant to stay indoors and prepare for evacuation.


It is only natural that the NRA has worked out such strict measures considering that residents in extensive areas more than 10 kilometers from the tsunami-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant were forced to evacuate following the March 2011 accident. However, there are numerous challenges to implementing specific countermeasures.


As a result of the expansion of the priority zone, the number of local bodies that fall under the zone will increase from 45 municipalities in 15 prefectures to 135 municipalities in 21 prefectures. The population of the entire priority zone will also increase about seven-fold to reach approximately 4.8 million.


The municipalities concerned will be required to work out their respective regional disaster-prevention plans based on the new guidelines by the end of this fiscal year. However, some local governments that will be newly covered by the priority zone have no expertise and appear to be at a loss as to how to work out such plans. The NRA, which will shortly release a manual on how to work out regional disaster-prevention plans and the results of its simulation of an accident at each of Japan's nuclear plants, should proactively help local bodies make such plans.


In case of a nuclear plant accident, local residents may be forced to evacuate across prefectural borders. The central government must coordinate cooperation between affected local bodies in guiding residents to evacuate in case of such an accident. At the first nuclear disaster prevention conference on Oct. 19, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda instructed Cabinet ministers concerned to take all possible measures to eliminate the anxieties of residents in areas hosting nuclear plants about accidents. The national government also needs to extend financial assistance to local governments and help them secure the necessary human resources for nuclear disaster prevention measures.


The national and local governments should repeatedly conduct disaster nuclear drills covering extensive areas in order to make sure their disaster prevention plans are effective. Such efforts will certainly heighten residents' awareness of the need to prepare for nuclear accidents.


The situation with Fukushima Prefecture, which hosts the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, is different from those of other local bodies that host nuclear plants. The national government has declared that the Fukushima plant has been brought to a "cold shutdown," meaning that the plant is now under control. But the plant is still in an unstable condition. In an NRA hearing, the prefectural government said that if another accident occurs at the plant, it could have a far more serious impact on the local community.


NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said concrete measures to prevent another accident at the crippled reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant will be included in the new guidelines. The authority is urged to compile guidelines to reflect the actual situation of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.


The judgment of whether idled nuclear reactors are safe enough to be reactivated is not legally related to the compilation of regional disaster prevention plans. Still, Tanaka acknowledges that from the standpoint of local residents, the government cannot give the green light to the resumption of operations at idled reactors unless decent regional disaster prevention plans have been worked out.


The consent of municipalities hosting nuclear power stations is indispensable for the reactivation of idled nuclear reactors. If the central government and electric power companies want to try to resume operations at nuclear reactors stopped for regular inspections or other reasons, they should win consent from local bodies that fall under disaster countermeasures priority zones and also compile regional disaster prevention plans.

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