When the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2005 proposed defining a zone where food intake regulations were to be enacted in the event of a nuclear emergency, Tokyo objected.
And the Vienna-based international nuclear watchdog never did define such a zone, leaving it up to the health ministry to hastily introduce regulations six years later following the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Official documents disclosed at the request of The Asahi Shimbun said that the Japanese government filed an objection when the IAEA proposed to designate, ahead of a potential nuclear disaster, an area where shipment bans on farm products and other measures would be implemented to regulate the intake of radioactive contaminated food.
The IAEA in February 2005 drew up a draft safety standard, which said that food intake regulations should be prepared within a 300-kilometer radius of a 1-gigawatt class nuclear power plant in case of a major accident.
According to the documents, members of Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) of Japan and the science and technology ministry in May 2005 discussed the proposal.
Participants decided to request, in the name of the Japanese government, that the concrete distance figure for the proposed zone be deleted.
The attendees cited the need to "consider negative publicity and other factors before defining a food regulation zone." They also said it was necessary to "consider whether it is appropriate to presume an accident with as big an impact as the one at Chernobyl," a report said.
The Brazilian government also made a similar protest. The distance specification was deleted in the end.
Until the Great East Japan Earthquake crippled the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant last March, the only disaster response guideline Tokyo had in place was for the disaster response headquarters to "begin considering" measures to regulate food intake. There would be "enough time" from the onset of an accident to the implementation of regulations on the intake of food, the authorities said at the time.
Following the Fukushima disaster, the health ministry hastily came up with provisional safety regulations that may not have been far-reaching enough.
"Following the latest accident, radioactive cesium exceeded the safety standard in tea leaves from Shizuoka Prefecture, more than 300 km from the Fukushima plant," said Hideaki Tsuzuku, the director of the Radiation Protection and Accident Management Division at the NSC. "Retrospectively, 300 km was not too large. We knew, from the Chernobyl experience, that radioactive substances below levels that are harmful to human bodies can be condensed in plants and domestic animals."
The NSC, currently reviewing the disaster response guideline, plans to define numerical standards for radioactive substance levels at which food and beverage intake regulations should be enacted.
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