The science ministry admitted it was partly responsible for not releasing accurate data on the spread of radiation to evacuees fleeing from the Fukushima disaster, but argued its response to the crisis was in line with the government’s basic disaster preparedness plan.
In its final report on the 2011 disaster response published on July 27, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology said it should have considered briefing other parts of the government machine on its System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information, or SPEEDI, data in the first days of the catastrophe.
Instead, it took until March 23, about two weeks after the start of the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, for the data to be released by the Nuclear Safety Commission, a body under the Cabinet Office.
In the meantime, a large number of residents in the vicinity of the crippled plant fled to areas under the radioactive plume.
The government’s Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations said in its final report on the nuclear crisis on July 23: “If the information on the predictions of the radioactive contamination had been available, it could have allowed local governments and residents to decide when and where to evacuate more appropriately.”
SPEEDI was set up to assist evacuees by forecasting levels of radiation contamination and the direction of a radioactive plume coming from a stricken plant. It is operated by the Nuclear Safety Technology Center, a body under the science ministry.
In the first days of the crisis, there were no readings on radiation levels from the Fukushima reactors, because equipment at the plant had been incapacitated by the loss of power following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
The ministry’s report said it acted in line with the disaster preparedness plan by instructing the center to make forecasts based on supposed figures for radioactive contamination and notifying relevant government ministries and agencies of the results.
It did, however, not play a leading role in the discussion of how to utilize the SPEEDI data. The ministry’s report said the government did not have a plan for how to deal with forecasts that were not based on the real radiation measurements. The ministry said there was doubt over the reliability of the information.
The ministry also admitted failings in its handling of advice on the use of contaminated playgrounds. In April last year, it drew fire for setting a radiation limit of 3.8 microsieverts an hour for playgrounds in Fukushima Prefecture.
The ministry argues that the figure was based on an annual cap of 20 millisieverts set by the International Commission on Radiological Protection, an international body advising on radiation protection, but admitted its relatively high level had invited misunderstanding from the public.
The ministry in May last year changed the safety standards for playgrounds to 1 millisievert a year.
(This article was written by Hiroshi Ishizuka and Yuta Hanano)
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