Mt. Vernon Register-News

March 21, 2013

Support needed for municipalities


The Register-News

---- — Local governments near nuclear power plants are facing difficulties in drawing up antidisaster plans that stipulate how and where residents should evacuate after the outbreak of a nuclear crisis.

We are seriously concerned about this problem.

Without such plans, it would be difficult for local governments to properly evacuate residents during a nuclear emergency, putting residents at risk of radiation exposure.

While 21 prefectural governments and 136 municipal governments have been asked to draw up antidisaster plans, only 70, or less than half, have completed them, according to the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

Under the NRA guidelines on nuclear disaster countermeasures, local governments were required to prepare nuclear emergency response plans within six months after the law to establish the NRA went into effect. This period ended Monday.

Although preparation of the antidisaster plans are not legal preconditions for restarting idle reactors, having feasible plans is necessary to obtain the understanding of local residents in bringing nuclear plants back online.

NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka has urged local governments to proactively compile antidisaster plans before the restart of halted nuclear plants.

He also said plans already formulated by local governments will need to be reviewed. “We’ll need to assess whether the plans really ensure safety,” he said, indicating that the NRA will not leave the plans to the discretion of local governments.

Considering the importance of antidisaster plans in nuclear emergencies, we believe the NRA’s stance is appropriate.

The NRA needs to avidly support the local governments’ efforts in drawing up the plans, including securing the cooperation of government ministries and agencies related to disaster prevention if necessary.

Local governments near nuclear plants are drawing up the plans based on NRA guidelines that incorporated lessons learned from the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The old guidelines, which were formulated before the disaster, did not anticipate a serious disaster at nuclear power facilities, and in retrospect did not reflect reality.

As a result, confusion arose during the evacuation of residents around the Fukushima plant, with some remaining in areas with high radiation levels.

The new guidelines expanded the areas required to take precautions against nuclear disasters, from an 8-kilometer to 10-kilometer radius around nuclear plants to a 30-kilometer radius.

The guidelines also state when evacuations should start, as well as requiring the distribution to residents of iodine tablets, which can help prevent radioactive substances from accumulating in the thyroid.

However, as the NRA guidelines were revised less than a month ago, local governments only had a limited amount of time to draw up their antidisaster plans before the Monday deadline.

As the guidelines have been significantly revised, it has not been easy for some local governments to comply with them. Many are struggling to decide on evacuation sites.

As the radius around nuclear plants in which precautions need to be taken was expanded to 30 kilometers, an increasing number of areas subject to the guidelines now stretch beyond prefectural borders. In one area, there are nearly 1 million residents.

Municipal governments have asked the central government to establish a framework that would enable them to negotiate among themselves in compiling their respective antidisaster plans.

Some parties concerned also have called for the central government to take responsibility for measuring radiation levels during a nuclear crisis instead of local governments.

There was a lack of coordination between the central and local governments in dealing with the Fukushima nuclear crisis after the Great East Japan Earthquake. The distribution of roles during nuclear emergencies is an important matter that needs to be dealt with.