The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry Fukushima Chernobyl Mayak Three Mile Island Atomic Testing Radiation Isotope

Evacuation plans still missing around 6 nuclear power plants

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN, March 6, 2023

Six of 15 locations with nuclear power plants, excluding those in Fukushima Prefecture, have not compiled sufficient emergency plans, including wide-area evacuations, in the event of a serious accident.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has pushed a policy to “return to nuclear power,” but disaster prevention challenges remained unresolved, and local people have expressed concerns.

The emergency plans were deemed necessary after the March 2011 nuclear disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant.

Niigata Prefecture hosts TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, one of the largest in the world.

On Feb. 7, disaster prevention officials of municipal governments in the prefecture held an annual meeting online in Niigata with staff of TEPCO and members of the Cabinet Office in charge of nuclear emergency preparations.

One theme at the meeting was whether people could safely flee if a severe accident were to occur at the plant on a day with heavy snow.

“For our residents, heavy snow is a threat much closer than terrorism, and it could cause tremendous anxiety and risk,” said a Nagaoka city government official, urging the prefectural government to examine evacuation plans in heavy snow.

Municipal governments within a radius of 30 kilometers of a nuclear power plant are required to draw up evacuation plans for severe nuclear accidents and discuss emergency procedures with the central government.

These plans are then supposed to receive approval at a nuclear emergency preparedness meeting chaired by the prime minister.

But there are no such plans in place in the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa area, where 437,000 people live.

Local officials said they are stumped over how to plan an evacuation in heavy snow.

On Dec. 18, snow started falling in the city of Kashiwazaki, where the nuclear power plant is located.

The Hokuriku Expressway that runs through the city was closed for up to 52 hours. National road No. 8, which runs parallel to the expressway, was shut down for 38 hours, and stranded vehicles formed a 22-km line in the snow.

The Kashiwazaki city government estimates that about 60,000 of the 79,000 or so residents would evacuate westward in the event of a nuclear power plant accident.

Any evacuation plan in the city would be severely hampered if the Hokuriku Expressway and national road No. 8 were unusable.

On Feb. 10, the Cabinet approved Kishida’s green transformation policy, marking a dramatic shift in the government’s post-3/11 stance on nuclear power.

The new policy allows the construction of new nuclear reactors and extending the maximum life of existing units beyond 60 years.

Operations of 10 reactors have already resumed.

Seven other reactors, including the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, are scheduled to restart in or after this summer.

Kishida said the central government “will be out in front and take any and every step” to push the policy, an unprecedented remark for a prime minister concerning nuclear energy.

TEPCO is seeking to resume operations of the No. 7 reactor at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in October.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority has issued a de facto ban on operations of the No. 7 reactor because of the utility’s blunders related to anti-terrorism measures, but the ban may be lifted in spring.

Once the ban is lifted, the remaining conditions for the reactor restart will be obtaining consent from local people and setting up a wide-area evacuation plan.

As of Feb. 11, TEPCO had held explanatory meetings on its reactor resumption plans to local residents at five locations in the prefecture.

A total of 71 people asked questions during the process.

A woman who made the last comment to TEPCO at the meetings said, “If you can’t protect people who can’t evacuate because of heavy snow, I don’t want you to resume the operation.”

Masaya Kitta, who heads TEPCO’s Niigata headquarters, replied: “An evacuation plan is not something we make. It may appear that we are leaving it to someone else, but we, as a plant operator, are doing our best to increase the evacuation plan’s effectiveness as much as possible.”

Of the seven reactors that the Kishida administration plans to restart in or after this summer, two are located in plants lacking local government evacuation plans: the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant and Japan Atomic Power Co.’s Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture.

In August 2022, Ibaraki Governor Kazuhiko Oigawa said the Tokai No. 2 plant “is located in an extremely densely populated area,” and the prefectural government “has been in an extremely difficult situation and faced enormous problems in making an effective and sensible evacuation plan.”

Around 940,000 residents live within 30 km of the Tokai No. 2 plant and would be subject to an evacuation in a nuclear disaster. That is the largest such figure in Japan.

Disaster prevention officials have had difficulties securing routes and transportation means for many people to evacuate all at once.

In a wide-area evacuation plan designed by the Ibaraki prefectural government, residents are supposed to leave in their own cars.

The prefecture will ask bus companies for cooperation to evacuate senior residents and disabled people.

The prefectural government estimates that more than 400 buses will be needed for the task, and it does not know how it can secure that many buses.

One guiding principle of the nuclear emergency preparedness was created in response to the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

Until then, the areas required to have an evacuation plan in place were located within 8 to 10 km of nuclear plants.

But the Fukushima accident showed how radioactive materials could spread to wider areas.

The central government expanded the radius to 30 km and required municipal governments within the areas to compile evacuation plans.

The central government also set up a group to discuss nuclear-related disaster-prevention measures in normal times.

But more than 10 years have passed since then. And many of the populated areas still do not have evacuation plans.

(This article was written by Yasuo Tomatsu and Shiki Iwasawa.)


March 6, 2023 - Posted by | Japan, safety

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: