No work has been done to establish a disaster prevention scheme for 17 nuclear facilities despite the fact the central government laid out its policy nearly three years ago to review the country’s nuclear disaster prevention structure in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns.
The 17 nuclear facilities consist of nuclear fuel processing and reprocessing and experimental and research facilities across the country that are subject to the Act on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness. No discussion has been held on disaster prevention schemes for such facilities. Some of them are located in urban areas, but local governments hosting such facilities have been urging the central government to review the country’s nuclear disaster prevention scheme as local governments are unable to reflect such a scheme in their disaster prevention plans including those for the evacuation of local residents.
The Power and Industrial Systems Research and Development Center, a nuclear research arm of Toshiba Corp., is one of the 17 facilities. Its premises are situated side by side with Nippon Steel & Sumikin Pipe Co.’s steel plant in Kawasaki where a fire broke out on Aug. 24. The nuclear facility is located about 300 meters from the fire site. Toshiba said, “It was not affected by the fire.” It went on to say, “The research facility is a basic facility for development of nuclear technology and it is a reactor with a maximum output of 200 watts which is extremely low.”
Haneda Airport is about 1 kilometer from the facility on the other side of the Tama River. But Toshiba said, “We assess that the assumed annual radiation dose in the event of a fire or an airplane crash is 1 millisievert (the maximum permissible level of annual radiation exposure for an ordinary person) or lower.”
The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) provisionally designated disaster prevention priority areas for the 17 facilities at zones within a radius of between 50 meters and 10 kilometers from the facilities, depending on their scale and type — the same as those set before the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Meanwhile, the guidelines for countermeasures against nuclear disasters formulated in October 2012 under the Act on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness expand the disaster prevention priority areas for nuclear power plants to about nine times as large as those set before the Fukushima disaster. But the guidelines say that the disaster prevention priority areas for the 17 nuclear facilities will be discussed with an eye toward reviewing them and be reflected in the guidelines. The guidelines also say that criteria for designating evacuation areas and methods are “issues to be discussed in the future.”
According to the NRA’s Secretariat, however, no specific discussion on such issues has been made. An official of the secretariat said, “The NRA has been taking time to sort things out because the facilities vary in type and size from one another.”
The disaster prevention priority area for Toshiba’s research facility is set at a radius of 100 meters which falls within its premises. But in 2013, the Kawasaki Municipal Government added “release of radioactive materials outside of the facility” to the list of assumed conditions set in its disaster prevention plan. But no decision has been made on specific areas and methods of evacuation. A municipal government official said, “Because the central government has not shown its criteria, we are watching the progress.”
About 4,000 people live in a provisional disaster prevention priority area for a nuclear fuel processing facility in the Kanagawa Prefecture city of Yokosuka, but the Kanagawa Prefectural Government has not been able to revise its disaster prevention plan. The Kanagawa Prefectural Government has been requesting the central government in writing every year since 2012 to review the guidelines.
There are three nuclear facilities including a university research unit and a nuclear processing facility in Osaka Prefecture, and they are located close to residential areas. The governments of Osaka, Aomori, Ibaraki and Okayama prefectures have been urging the central government in writing and verbally to review the guidelines.
Hirotada Hirose, professor emeritus at Tokyo Woman’s Christian University, said, “As long as the facilities are dealing with nuclear materials even though they are relatively small, a nuclear disaster could occur. The NRA should review the countermeasures that are ambiguous at present as soon as possible after properly assessing the risks.”