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2014年4月25日 (金)


April 24, 2014
EDITORIAL: Governor’s doubts about nuclear safety should be addressed

There are many reasons to doubt whether the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which is keen to restart idled nuclear reactors, is really committed to ensuring that citizens will never again become victims of a nuclear accident.

Currently, nuclear regulators are examining reactors around the nation to determine if they meet the new nuclear safety standards and can be brought back online. But Hirohiko Izumida, governor of Niigata Prefecture, where Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant is located, argues that the safety of residents in areas around the plant is not guaranteed even if the reactors there pass the safety checks.

In order to enhance the safety of a nuclear power plant, the facilities must, of course, fulfill the tougher safety requirements. However, it is also vital for the local governments to craft reliable evacuation plans as a preparation for emergencies.

Since Izumida is the chief of a local government responsible for working out such evacuation plans, the Abe administration should pay serious attention to his warnings.

Izumida’s comments are convincing and specific because they are based on his personal experiences. As the chief of the Niigata prefectural government, he had to respond to the magnitude-6.8 Niigata Chuetsu-oki Earthquake off the prefecture in 2007 that triggered a fire at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant. In the wake of the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in 2011, he was asked to help provide aid to people in areas affected by the disaster.

The 2007 quake made roads impassable at many places, making it impossible for even emergency vehicles to move around. Deep snow would have made evacuations even more difficult.

Plans specifying the places where local residents should evacuate to in emergencies would be useless under such circumstances.

Izumida suggested that the only effective way to prepare local communities for serious nuclear accidents is to build a nuclear shelter for each house. Are the government and the electric utilities operating nuclear power plants aware of the enormity of the challenge and willing to do what needs to be done?

To rescue people left behind in disaster areas, workers such as bus drivers need to enter areas with high levels of radiation. Buses cannot be used in such situations unless the related law is revised to allow bus drivers, who are private-sector workers, to operate at the risk of being exposed to levels of radiation higher than the legal dose limits for ordinary civilians.
But is it possible to build a broad consensus on easing the limits for bus drivers?

Izumida also points out that the proposed measures to deal with nuclear accidents are also grossly inadequate.

Suppose, for instance, all the coolant has been lost in a severe nuclear accident and humans must carry out tasks to contain the crisis while being exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. Who should be assigned to the mission?

Suppose containing a nuclear crisis requires a decision that would cause serious damage to the financial health of the electric utility operating the nuclear plant. Is there any guarantee that the priority will be placed on the safety of residents rather than on the company’s economic viability?

These questions have been raised by the actual nuclear accident. But debate on these issues has been put on the back burner.

The Abe administration intends to restart reactors that have met the new nuclear safety standards, which it claims are “the world’s strictest.”

But Izumida says the new requirements don’t even measure up to international standards, and criticizes the government for “lying.”

If it believes the governor has got it wrong, the Abe administration should answer all the questions raised.

Many cities and towns in areas around nuclear power plants have already put together evacuation plans in hopes that idled reactors will be restarted.

As local governments responsible for the safety of residents, however, they should ponder the questions raised by Izumida to determine whether their evacuation plans would really work in crises.

Should a serious accident happen again, the authorities would no longer be able to escape responsibility for the consequences with the excuse that the unexpected has occurred.

--The Asahi Shimbun, April 24


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