Disaster plans outstanding issue in plant restart, critics say

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

The Sendai nuclear plant in Kyushu may have cleared a major hurdle toward its restart on Wednesday, but anti-nuclear groups warn it’s far from ready to go online.

Improved evacuation plans and a better understanding of the possible impact of a volcanic eruptions in southern Kyushu are among the unresolved issues for Kyushu Electric Power Co., the operator of the plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, critics say.

“A major flaw (with the evacuation plans) is that there is no specific plan to evacuate people who are deeply dependent on others, such as the elderly, those in the hospital or at care facilities, and where to take them,” the Citizens’ Commission on Nuclear Energy, a Tokyo-based anti-nuclear group, said in a statement released after the Nuclear Regulation Authority effectively gave the green light for restarting the Sendai plant.

Speaking at a news conference, group member Kanna Mitsuta said the plans were especially inadequate regarding the evacuation of people living farther than 10 km from the plant.

Citing a simulation by a private firm, she said the Kagoshima Prefectural Government’s evacuation plan is not based on a detailed model of the possible radioactive fallout from the plant. Residents forced to evacuate to the southeast might be exposed, depending on the prevailing winds, she said.

Anti-nuclear groups also faulted the NRA for not adequately evaluating the impact of potential volcanic activity on the two reactors it evaluated for safety.

According to Kyushu Electric, there are 39 volcanos, including Sakurajima, within a 160-km radius of the Sendai plant. The activists say a huge eruption could bring disaster to the plant.

Kyushu Electric has insisted that there is only a very small chance of a major eruption in the near future.

But a group that monitors the NRA said it appears no volcano experts were consulted throughout the review process and such experts have been quoted in the media as saying it’s hard to predict when a volcano will erupt.