Saturday, April 09, 2011

Japan Weighs Wider Evacuation Zone: In Your Own Time Now

Japan Weighs Wider Evacuation Zone
April 7, 2011

TOKYO—Japan's government said Thursday it is considering extending the evacuation zone around its hobbled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, as the government recalculates the risk of radioactivity that continues to issue from the plant four weeks after Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami.

Later on Thursday, Japan suffered its strongest temblor since the March 11 quake, highlighting the ongoing uncertainty over whether further aftershocks could damage the reactors further and release more radiation, or put other nuclear plants at risk. Some other plants were running on emergency generators but no operating problems were reported in the hours after the 7.1-magnitude quake.

The government's top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, said Thursday the current 20-kilometer (12-mile) evacuation zone around the Fukushima Daiichi plant may need to be enlarged, because the original parameters were established to protect against too much exposure in the short term and radiation continues to emanate from the complex.

Officials intended the evacuation zone to prevent anyone getting more cumulative exposure to radiation than a nuclear plant worker is limited to in a year—50 millisieverts.

"Current evacuation orders apply to areas where people are in danger of having received 50 millisieverts [of cumulative exposure]," Mr. Edano said. "We are now looking into what to do with other areas where, with prolonged exposure, people may receive that amount."

Two weeks ago, a state-funded monitoring body released a computer simulation that showed that in the first 12 days of troubles at the plant, certain areas beyond the evacuation zone had exceeded Japan's recommended cumulative exposure.

The body, the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan, hasn't released an updated assessment since. A commission official said Thursday the group is collecting more data to improve the quality of its model.

Tepco said it has provided radiation figures from several locations near the complex and is awaiting government analysis before making the data public.

The government hasn't said when it would make a decision on expanding the zone, what measures it would use or how it might house those it relocates. It said it hasn't set a timetable.

The discussion is likely to renew international scrutiny of the government's 20-kilometer (12-mile) zone, which is smaller than 80-kilometer (50-mile) zone recommended by U.S. officials.

Several municipal officials in the area expressed anger at the government's handling of the situation. The mayor of one town just outside the 30-kilometer radius said the government should have thought ahead earlier in the crisis.

"We are hearing that it may take months for the plant to settle down—and only now are they talking about expanding the zone?" said Michio Furukawa, mayor of Kawamata, a town to the northwest with elevated radiation levels that is one of seven municipalities from which sales of local produce have been banned. "When this will all end?"

Last week, the government reported that just a handful of people have remained inside the 20-kilometer exclusion zone. It said thousands remain in the band 20 to 30 kilometers from the plant, where the government has urged residents to remain indoors as much as possible. It said others travel into the band daily to check on people and property.

Senior nuclear regulator Hidehiko Nishiyama apologized for the possible further dislocation to those living in the area. He identified a series of hydrogen explosions at the plant days after the earthquake as the primary cause of the widespread radiation.

"The explosions sent radioactive materials flying to areas far outside the nuclear complex," Mr. Nishiyama, of Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said at a news conference. "Radioactive materials, once spread, cannot be put back. The best we can do is to stabilize the damaged reactors and prevent further emissions of radiation."

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in a March 26 assessment of the plant that was made public this week, said a hydrogen explosion in a spent-fuel cooling pool threw particles of nuclear fuel up to a mile from the complex. more page 2
Related: Japan is Fucked, The Planet is Fucked, We're All Fucked

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