An Ounce of Nuclear Prevention: A Window into Japanese Evacuation Planning for Nuclear Accidents
January 11, 2016
In the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, 98,000 people left their homes under Japanese government orders to evacuate. Many of them did not know what had happened at the plant until the evacuation notice. Those living within a 3km radius were the first to go on March 11, 2011. As the seriousness of the accident became apparent, the areas of evacuation were gradually expanded. Thus, many residents were forced to re-evacuate to other places several times without accurate information from the Japanese government. There were no preparations in place for wider-area evacuations.
The 2011 accident highlighted the need for better evacuation planning and in 2012, the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) requested that municipalities lying within 30km from the nuclear power plant formulate evacuation plans. However, as in other cases of Japanese policy, the responsibilities are murky. While towns and prefectures plan for evacuations, they have demanded that the central government take responsibility for actual responses.
This has been the case of Ikata Town and Ehime Prefecture, home to the Ikata Nuclear Power Plant. In fact, Ehime Governor Tokihiro Nakamura and Ikata Mayor Kazuhiko Yamashita made the restart of their reactors contingent on the central government asserting responsibility. This seemed to be more important than actual proof that evacuation plans were sufficient. In fact, just days before the Japanese government held a drill to test evacuation plans, Governor Nakamura and Ikata Town Mayor Yamashita approved the restart of the local reactors. This raises several questions: Should evacuation plans be required to license the operation of reactors (as they are in the United States)? Did local politicians serve their constituents well? What is an appropriate formula for sharing responsibilities in nuclear matters in Japan?