National

Niigata nuclear disaster drill finds governor, state at odds over iodine pill distribution

Kyodo

An evacuation drill to prepare for a nuclear disaster has been held in Niigata Prefecture, but central and prefectural government officials remained at odds over when to hand out potassium iodine pills to residents to mitigate the risk of thyroid cancer in such a scenario.

The drill was based on a situation in which an earthquake registering 6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 0 to 7 would hit the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, operated in the prefecture by Tokyo Electric Power Co., knocking out the power supply and leaving the utility unable to cool its reactor 7.

About 1,500 people within a 30-km radius of the plant participated in the drill.

In Tuesday’s drill, as Tepco announced the expected timing of radiation leaks from the plant, Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida held a teleconference with central government and municipal officials, saying that potassium iodine tablets should be handed out to residents immediately to protect their thyroid glands.

“Residents should take potassium iodine pills before radiation is released,” Izumida said.

However, central government officials maintained that, in accordance with basic evacuation guidelines, such tablets are to be distributed only after radioactive materials leak outside the plant, and only in areas where radiation levels are found to be high.

The drill wrapped up without finishing, as officials disagreed over the timing of the iodine distribution.

However, other aspects of the drill, which involved relaying information on the scale of the disaster among government agencies, were carried out.

Izumida said after the drill that he cannot protect the health of residents under the current guidelines set by the central government. Due to its disagreements with the central government, Niigata Prefecture has been unable to come up with a proper plan on how to administer iodine tablets in the event of a nuclear disaster.

But Hiroo Shinada, mayor of the village of Kariwa, criticized the governor, saying that such disagreements should not be dealt with during an evacuation drill.

At a public health center in the city of Nagaoka, where officials also participated in the exercise, pharmacists simulated administering iodine tablets to young children by dissolving them in water, making them easier to administer.