Government considered evacuating 500,000 after nuclear accident

May 10, 2012

By GO YAMASHITA/ Staff Writer

In the days after the Great East Japan Earthquake last year, the Cabinet Office was drawing up plans to evacuate 500,000 people in a “worst-case scenario” at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

That plan would have relocated all people living within a 50-kilometer radius of the plant.

Koichiro Genba, then minister in charge of national policy, said in a recent interview with The Asahi Shimbun that he instructed the Japan Atomic Energy Commission on March 15 to come up with measures to deal with the most serious situation that could develop, namely lost control of all reactors at the plant.

But the government decided to stick to its initial order to evacuate residents within the 20-km zone, affecting 78,000 people.

“We reached the conclusion that the evacuation order for people living 20 km from the plant would be sufficient after consulting with experts over the envisaged outcome of the accident,” said Genba, now Japan’s foreign minister.

Genba, who is from the No. 3 electoral district in Fukushima Prefecture, said he pointed out the possibility of a meltdown at a meeting of the nuclear disaster response task force on March 12, the day after the quake and tsunami triggered the crisis at the Fukushima plant.

Under Genba’s instruction, the commission, set up in the Cabinet Office, drew up contingency steps for a possible chain of meltdowns, after radiation emitted from melted fuel at one of the three reactors forced workers to pull out.

Genba suggested the evacuation of people living within 50 km of the plant to Prime Minister Naoto Kan after the commission presented the scenario and evacuation plan.

The government expanded the area requiring evacuation to a 20-km radius from a 3-km radius on March 12.

On March 15, it advised people living between 20 km and 30 km from the plant to stay indoors as a precaution against radiation exposure.

At that time, the government was trying to secure accommodations in surrounding prefectures for the Fukushima evacuees.

Genba said he also gave orders to dispatch dozens of tank trucks to the 20- to 30-km zone, which had been hit by a serious gas shortage, early on March 16 after obtaining Kan’s approval.

“I wanted people to flee if they were able to do so,” Genba said.

He said evacuation zones can only be established on a case-by-case basis.

“We cannot uniformly apply a certain kilometer evacuation zone,” he said. “It depends on the location factor.”

By GO YAMASHITA/ Staff Writer
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