Japan's Central Disaster Prevention Council has revamped its basic disaster preparedness system in light of the catastrophe at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant last year.
This means that local governments close to nuclear plants, along with utilities, are also being required to draw up individual disaster preparedness plans accordingly.
In coming days, the Noda administration is set to announce its new energy strategy, under which Japan will strive to wean itself from its dependence on nuclear power generation.
As a result, the government will have to decide which nuclear plants to close, based on the vulnerability and costs for each facility.
The new basic disaster preparedness system needs to reflect this process. It already mirrors numerous issues highlighted by various organs, including the Diet body that investigated the Fukushima disaster.
The premise of the new disaster plan is that multiple disasters and severe accidents are bound to occur. Based on that premise, the plan requires authorities and utilities to set down precise procedures for mass evacuations, clarify the division of roles, and fully implement training and checking procedures.
The new plan also clearly spelled out that the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information (SPEEDI) analysis would be promptly released by the new nuclear regulatory committee that is expected to be set up this month.
All of these measures are utterly necessary. In fact, they should have been in place a lot sooner.
Zones earmarked for evacuation procedures will be expanded from the current 8- to 10-kilometer radius around each power plant to 30 km.
The issue here is whether Japan can come up with a realistic disaster preparedness plan.
The area around the Tokai Nov. 2 Nuclear Power Plant in Ibaraki Prefecture is home to 1.07 million people. In the case of the Hamaoka power plant in Shizuoka Prefecture, some 940,000 people live in the immediate area. A simultaneous mass evacuation would be impossible.
On the other hand, sparsely populated areas are also vulnerable. In many instances, there is only one main road. The fear is that access could be blocked by earthquake and tsunami damage, or frozen over during winter.
Clearly, the priority in such cases is for nuclear plants to be decommissioned.
The government has decided that nuclear plants, in principle, must be decommissioned after 40 years. This means that a number of plants will be shut in a few years.
Concern is already being voiced about the burgeoning public works budget associated with disaster preparedness.
Instead of pouring huge amounts of money to build sea walls and roads, there will surely be cases where money and effort will be better spent on rebuilding local communities and local industries after they sever their reliance on nuclear plants.
Decommissioning does not mean that nuclear fuel rods and radioactive materials will be removed. Accidents can still happen until the facilities and equipment are scrapped entirely. We must not let our guard down.
However, if the type of danger and degree of danger changes, then there ought to be different ways of planning for them.
As a way of putting together a tangible denuclearization policy, the government must rush to make a list of old and dangerous nuclear plants, thereby making the disaster preparedness plan viable.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 9
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