MATSUE, Shimane Pref. – Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori on Saturday presided over a large-scale nuclear accident drill at a nuclear power plant in Shimane Prefecture involving around 12,000 local residents.
The drill was the first to be conducted under the terms of the Special Measures Law for Nuclear Accidents, which took effect in June and requires the government to conduct a comprehensive drill every year.
The law was instituted in the wake of Japan’s worst ever nuclear accident, which occurred in September last year at a nuclear-fuel-processing plant in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture.
Saturday’s drill simulated an accident at Chugoku Electric Power Co.’s nuclear power plant in Kashima. The drill was conducted on the premise that the main water feeder pump had shut down, cutting off the supply of cooling water, damaging the reactor core and releasing radiation.
The mock meltdown was rated as a Level 5 accident on the international nuclear event scale devised by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency.
The 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the United States was rated as a Level 5 incident. The Tokai accident was judged to be Level 4, although many experts said it could rate Level 5.
The nuclear accident in Tokai, some 120 km northeast of Tokyo, occurred while workers were handling uranium. Two of the plant’s employees have since died from radiation sickness and at least 438 people were exposed to higher-than-normal levels of radiation.
On Saturday morning, the drill began with a report from the power plant to the central government, the Shimane Prefectural Government, and the Kashima Municipal Government that the atomic reactor had been automatically suspended because of a decline in the cooling water level.
Central government employees and nuclear experts rushed from Tokyo to the accident site, transported by Self-Defense Forces aircraft. Just after 9 a.m., Shimane Gov. Nobuyoshi Sumita arrived at the prefectural government building in Matsue to set up a task force on the accident.
It was also assumed during the drill that the power station’s emergency core cooling system had failed. This further aggravated the situation and prompted Mori to declare an official emergency at 10:32 a.m. A government task force, headed by Mori, was established.
At a prefectural employees’ hall building in Matsue — located some 8.5 km from the site of the simulated accident — an off-site center was set up to deal with the emergency.
From there, officials held consultations with Mori, who was based at the crisis management center in Tokyo.
Mori ordered the local government officials to make residents’ safety their top priority and to do their best to contain the situation.
Following the simulated radiation leak from the damaged reactor, the central government issued an evacuation order at 12:30 p.m.
Some 110 people from 30 households situated 2 km southeast of the power station were evacuated by three SDF trucks. Around 11,300 residents living within a 6-km radius of the plant were also ordered to take refuge indoors.
After confirming that the radiation leak had been contained, the central government lifted the state of emergency and completed the drill.
The Special Measures Law for Nuclear Accidents was instituted in December, three months after the Tokai accident, out of concern that the government had failed to grasp promptly what was happening at the accident site.
In accordance with the law, the government drew up a manual in late August detailing what should be done by the central and local governments, in addition to nuclear power companies and regulators.
Saturday’s drill was designed to determine whether the procedures laid out in the manual would work. The government will revise the manual after the drill, if necessary.
The Osaka Prefectural Government conducted a separate drill Saturday, based on the scenario of a fire at a nuclear reactor laboratory in Kumatori, owned by Kyoto University. Around 2,000 local residents and officials from the police, the Science and Technology Agency and other government offices participated in the drill.
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