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Japan's nuke watchdog issues disaster guidelines

Publication Date : 04-10-2012


The Nuclear Regulation Authority released Wednesday a draft of guideline measures to cope with nuclear disasters that includes a request to preemptively distribute stable iodine pills to houses within a 50-kilometre radius of nuclear power plants.

The NRA released the draft for a new guideline for protecting residents in the event of an accident at a nuclear power plant at its regular meeting.

The draft expands the range of priority areas for emergency measures to a 30-kilometre radius from each nuclear power plant.

In addition to the distribution of iodine pills, the draft guideline also presented for the first time measures to cope with situations where large quantities of radioactive substances have been discharged.

The NRA will finalise the draft guideline by the end of this month.

Compiling the new guideline was one of the first tasks of the NRA, which was established in September.

In previous guidelines for nuclear disaster prevention, the priority area for countermeasures was roughly defined as a radius of eight to 10 kilometres from a nuclear power plant.

The size of this area was expanded because the no-entry zone created following the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant had a 20-kilometre radius, which was much larger than originally forecasted.

As a result, the number of municipalities to be covered under the new guidelines will increase from the current 45 to 135.

Under the draft guideline, areas within five kilometres of a nuclear plant are designated as places where residents must immediately evacuate if a serious accident is anticipated.

The NRA will also start deciding numerical criteria, such as radiation levels, that will be used to determine whether an evacuation is necessary.

The draft guideline also proposed stable iodine pills be directly distributed in advance to all households that may be affected to prevent radiation exposure to thyroid glands.

The previous guidelines stated that iodine pills should be stored near nuclear plants by local governments and only be distributed after an accident actually occurs.

The change was the result of lessons learned from the Fukushima accident, when local governments were unable to distribute the pills quickly enough.

Off-site centres, which will act as countermeasure bases in the event of a nuclear accident, will be located within a five- to 30-kilometre radius of nuclear power plants. The draft guideline also proposed that additional off-site centres be built outside the 30-kilometre radius in case others become unable to function.

The previous guidelines stipulated that each off-site centre be located within a 20-kilometre radius of a nuclear plant.

At the time of the Fukushima nuclear accident, people in charge of prevention work gathered at an off-site center in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, which is about five kilometres from the nuclear plant. However, the centre's functions were paralysed partly because of rising radiation levels.

In addition, the evacuation of patients at Futaba Hospital in the town was delayed and many died as a result.

The new draft guideline urges the compilation of feasible evacuation plans that can minimise burdens on patients based on the assumption that all patients may have to be evacuated.

In the Fukushima accident, coolant water containing large quantities of radioactive substances leaked into the sea. The new guideline urges that measures to cope with such incidents should be considered.

Local governments nationwide that are close to nuclear power plants will compile their own disaster prevention plans based on the NRA's new guideline by March next year.

The plans will be the basis for decisions on whether to allow the reactivation of reactors at nuclear power plants across the nation.

Outline of draft

-- The range of priority areas for nuclear disaster prevention measures will be expanded from an eight- to 10-kilometre radius to a 30-kilometre radius from nuclear power plants.

-- Residents within a five-kilometre radius will evacuate immediately when a serious nuclear accident is anticipated.

-- Stable iodine pills to prevent radiation exposure in thyroid glands will be distributed in advance to all residents in a 50-kilometre radius.

-- Off-site centers serving as bases in the event of a nuclear accident should be built within a five- to 30-kilometre radius. Additional centres should be built outside the 30-kilometre radius zone in case other centers are unable to function.

-- Feasible plans to evacuate hospital patients should be compiled.


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