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Fukui defies critics of nuclear evacuation plan

by

Staff Writer

Last week’s approval by Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa to restart two Takahama nuclear reactors, followed by the Fukui District Court’s lifting of a provisional injunction, means Japan will soon fire up its third and fourth reactors since 2012.

“I made my decision after the safety aspects had been considered and approved by (the) Takahama township and prefectural assembly, and after considering the general policies of the national government and Kepco,” Nishikawa said, referring to Kansai Electric Power Co.

The Fukui District Court ruled that, as there was no clear and present danger to local communities from the reactors, there was no reason for the injunction.

Both decisions came less than a week after the Cabinet Office released detailed evacuation plans for dealing with a nuclear crisis at Takahama — plans that critics warn may prove unrealistic in an actual emergency.

About 179,000 people live within 30 km of the Takahama plant, and 8,800 live within 5 km of it. Of the 179,000 total, about 54,000 reside in four Fukui towns and another 125,000 are from seven cities in neighboring Kyoto Prefecture. All would have to be evacuated in the event of a disaster.

The official evacuation plan is based on three different scenarios.

In the first scenario, known as Operational Intervention Level 1, more than 500 microsieverts of radiation per hour are detected. In the second scenario, OIL 2, between 20 and 500 microsieverts per hour are detected, with a base level of half a microsievert set for OIL 3.

In OIL 1, evacuation procedures would be put into place within hours of confirming the radiation level. For OIL 2, the time frame is within a day. The plans call for sending more than 46,000 Fukui residents within 5 km to 30 km of Takahama northeast, toward the towns of Tsuruga, Sabae, or Echizen.

Roughly 125,000 residents in seven Kyoto cities also live between 5 km and 30 km of the plant, and would have to be evacuated. Within the prefecture, the flow would be directed south and southwest to Kyoto, Uji and other cities, as well as to Kobe and 18 other towns and cities in Hyogo, and to Naruto and two towns in Tokushima on Shikoku.

Most of the roughly 8,800 residents living within 5 km of Takahama would be evacuated to Tsuruga, as well as to Sanda and Takarazuka in neighboring Hyogo. About 640 people living in areas of Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture, within 5 km of the Takahama plant would be evacuated to Kobe.

A key concern local officials have is how the central government will initially respond to the next nuclear disaster. The plan for delivering first responders and relief goods from Tokyo calls for Air Self-Defense Force transport planes at Iruma Air Base in Saitama to fly to Komatsu Air Base in Ishikawa Prefecture (a one hour flight), where their cargo will be transferred to helicopters and ferried to Takahama, 30 minutes away.

Yet all the detailed plans are all based on the assumption that the roads leading out of Takahama — which lies in a remote area on the Sea of Japan coast — to the evacuation zones in other parts of Fukui, as well as Kyoto and Hyogo, will not have been damaged; that there will not be mass panic that clogs the roads; and that there will be enough time for residents within 30 km of the plant to get to safety.

But what happens if the nuclear incident has been triggered by an earthquake or other natural disaster that has destroyed the roads? Or, what happens if an accident occurs in the midst of a blizzard, where icy roads and hazardous driving conditions can lead to accidents that block them and create long traffic jams?

The Cabinet Office’s plans state that, in the event of a natural disaster that makes fleeing by road impossible, residents will be evacuated by ship from the neighboring port city of Maizuru, which has a Maritime Self-Defense Force base. Helicopters will land at about a dozen designated areas along the main roads in Fukui and northern Kyoto that lie within the 30-km evacuation radius.

Again, the above assumptions are that the port facilities will be working after a disaster and that residents will be able to get to a dozen locations that have been designated as helicopter landing spots, most of which are in Maizuru.

For some local politicians outside Fukui, the evacuation plans represent a challenge and an opportunity. Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada met with Vice Minister Yosuke Takagi of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry earlier this month and asked Tokyo to provide funding in next year’s fiscal budget for improving roads.

“There are a lot of issues in regards to infrastructure for areas of evacuation and evacuation routes,” Yamada said, pointing out that funding for road improvements had yet to be guaranteed.

However, Shiga Prefecture, which could find itself deluged with panicked evacuees, is also the home of Lake Biwa, the main source of water for 14 million people. A disaster at the Takahama plant could contaminate drinking water sources for not only those towns and cities named in the evacuation plans, but also for those as far away as Osaka.

“If there’s an accident, there will be a long-term effect over a wide area of Lake Biwa,” said Shiga Gov. Daizo Mikazuki last Tuesday after Fukui Gov. Nishikawa granted approval for reactor restarts.

Kansai Perspective appears on the fourth Monday of each month, focusing on Kansai-area developments and events of national importance with a Kansai connection.

  • Ron Lane

    Do any of these evacuation plans take into account which way the prevailing winds may be blowing? Without that information many people may be headed in the direction of the radioactive cloud, as was the case during the Fukushima evacuations when many people would have been better off staying put. It was shown then that “evacuation radius” zones are quite meaningless.

    • Clayton Forrester

      A very good point.