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What about handicapped and elderly people? What about patients?

June 18, 2014

Survey: Nuclear evacuation plans scarce for those most in need




More than 90 percent of hospitals around six nuclear power plants seeking to restart their reactors have not worked out evacuation plans for a possible nuclear accident, an Asahi Shimbun survey showed.

About 75 percent of social welfare facilities, including nursing homes, in the same areas also lack such plans, the survey found.

The central government has ordered municipalities near nuclear facilities to compile more efficient evacuation plans after many elderly people and patients died during the prolonged and chaotic evacuation process when the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant unfolded in March 2011.

However, some municipalities say the government’s demands are unrealistic. For example, some local officials say they simply do not have the personnel or equipment available for such a large-scale task.

In addition, completion of such evacuation plans--even for people facing the most difficulty in fleeing on their own--is not a requirement for restarting a nearby nuclear reactor.

The survey, conducted through prefectural governments late last month, covered hospitals and social welfare facilities in 52 municipalities located within a 30-kilometer radius of six nuclear plants: Tomari in Hokkaido; Takahama and Oi, both in Fukui Prefecture; Ikata in Ehime Prefecture; Genkai in Saga Prefecture; and Sendai in Kagoshima Prefecture.

The utilities operating these plants have applied to the Nuclear Regulation Authority for safety checks that could lead to a restart of their idled reactors. The safety check process has proceeded the furthest at these six facilities among all nuclear plants in Japan.

According to the survey, only 18, or 8 percent, of the 217 hospitals in the 52 municipalities have worked out their own evacuation plans, while 204, or 25 percent, of the 823 social welfare facilities have done so.

Although the 52 municipalities have worked out evacuation plans for all residents, prefectural governments have called on hospitals and social welfare facilities to work out their own evacuation plans as part of overall disaster preparedness plans for municipalities.

The Sendai nuclear power plant is expected to become the first to receive the green light to restart its reactors. In the nine municipalities around the plant, only one of the 87 hospitals and six of the 153 social welfare facilities have completed their evacuation plans.

In 2012, the central government demanded all municipalities within 30 km of a nuclear plant compile evacuation plans. Previously, municipalities within a radius of 8 to 10 km of a plant faced that requirement.

The government told the municipalities to pay particular attention to elderly and other people who may require additional assistance during evacuations.

One major hurdle in compiling evacuation plans is how to secure buses or other means of transportation in the event of a nuclear disaster.

For example, the Shiga prefectural government estimates that 500 buses would be required to relocate elderly and other people in need of special assistance.

But the prefecture has found it difficult to ensure that it alone can provide that number of buses, so it plans to ask the central government for help.

Municipal governments have expressed complaints about the orders.

“It is impossible for us to work out evacuation plans as we are told by the central government,” said an official of Tomari village in Hokkaido.

The central government has set up a working team to help municipalities compile evacuation plans, but it bears no responsibility for any failure to complete them.

The NRA is checking whether reactors or other facilities at the nuclear power plants meet new safety standards. The completion of municipal governments’ evacuation plans is not required for NRA approval to restart the reactors.

In the United States, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission bans the operation of nuclear power plants unless plans are in place that can guarantee the safe evacuation of nearby residents.

Former industry ministry official Shigeaki Koga explained why the Japanese central government will not assume responsibility for working out local evacuation plans.

He said if the government accepted such responsibility, it would become impossible to build nuclear power plants in the country.

(This article was written by Shinichi Sekine and Asako Myoraku.)


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