NARAHA, Fukushima Prefecture--The 2011 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant showed just how vulnerable the nation's reactors were to a natural disaster. Now, government officials are increasingly concerned about whether a similar crisis could be triggered by a terrorist attack.
On May 11, the first joint training exercise was conducted on the scenario that the crippled Fukushima No. 1 plant was targeted by terrorists.
Police officers and members of the Japan Coast Guard took part in the exercise held at the nearby Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power plant in Naraha, located about 12 kilometers south of the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
About 150 individuals participated in the drill, with many wearing protective gear against radiation. High-ranking officials of the Defense Ministry and Self-Defense Forces were also on hand to observe the exercise.
Police security measures at the Fukushima No. 1 plant have been strengthened due to concerns that terrorists might try to spread the radioactive materials contaminating the plant site.
The training exercise involved three hypothetical cases, including one in which terrorists tried to enter the plant from the main gate.
In another scenario in which hypothetical terrorists tried to sneak in using a cargo ship, Coast Guard members rappelled from helicopters to stop their entry. Terrorists that tried to escape by running to the coastal wall were seized upon by police dogs and captured.
During the exercise, the National Police Agency also unveiled a special radiation protection vehicle. Each bus-shaped vehicle costs about 150 million yen ($1.5 million).
The vehicle body and windows contain lead to shut out radiation. Air pressure within the vehicle is also kept higher than atmospheric pressure to prevent radioactive materials from leaking in.
One of the vehicles will be deployed at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant with the other to be dispatched from the Metropolitan Police Department in case of emergencies. The vehicle will allow police officers to respond to terrorist attacks at nuclear plants, patrol surrounding areas and help those who were late in evacuating from areas in the vicinity of nuclear plants.
POST 3/11 MEASURES
Although only two of the nation's 50 reactors are currently in operation, the police and Coast Guard have strengthened anti-terrorist measures at all reactors.
Because meltdowns at the reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 plant were caused by a loss of electrical sources, security personnel have been placed to protect power sources and cooling facilities in addition to the buildings housing the reactors.
Japanese police began taking serious measures to protect nuclear reactors after 9/11. After those terrorist attacks in the United States, police officers were permanently stationed at all nuclear facilities in Japan. From May 2002, armed units equipped with submachine guns and sniper rifles were also deployed to the plants.
Under the current plan to deal with terrorist attacks on nuclear plants, those armed units would be the first responders. If the units are unable to suppress the terrorists, special assault teams from the police would be dispatched. If the SAT teams also failed to subdue the terrorists, the SDF would be called into action.
High-ranking police officials are focusing attention on preventing so-called internal threats in the form of individuals who pose as electric power company employees or plant workers to infiltrate nuclear plants. The concern is that once those individuals are inside the plant, they would serve as conduits for fellow terrorists.
Currently, electric power companies are held responsible for background checks of potential employees. However, based on a recommendation by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the central government is seeking to establish a system in which it would handle those background checks.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority has established a panel of experts to consider the specific details of such a system. Plans call for compiling a proposal in time for an international conference on nuclear plant protection that will be held next year in the Netherlands.
While the background checks would likely screen for criminal and drug-use records, concerns may also be raised about invasion of privacy and the handling of personal information.
(This article was compiled from reports by Atsushi Kashimoto and Kenji Ogata, a senior staff writer.)
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