19 Décembre 2015
December 19, 2015
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
The government's declaration of a nuclear emergency on March 11, 2011, reached only 16.5 percent of residents in Fukushima Prefecture by the following day, according to a Cabinet Office survey.
A key reason for this seems to have been that the communication structure in coastal areas was wiped out by the towering tsunami generated by the magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake that led to the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The government directive was issued about four hours after the earthquake struck.
The survey findings on 19,535 evacuees from 22 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture underscore the difficulties in promptly notifying residents in such an emergency situation, which is essential for ensuring that all residents are evacuated smoothly.
The survey, the largest government-sponsored study on people evacuated in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, was undertaken between February and May 2014.
The Cabinet Office said it was done in line with a law to use such data for mapping out extensive evacuation plans for nuclear accidents. It sent questionnaires to 59,378 people, and 19,535, or 32.9 percent of them, responded.
The central government issued the emergency declaration in Tokyo at 7:03 p.m. on March 11, 2011, approximately four hours after the earthquake hit. Only 16.5 percent of the respondents said they were informed of the declaration by the following day.
At 9:23 p.m. on March 11, the government also instructed all residents living within a 3-kilometer radius of the crippled plant to be evacuated and those living within 10 km of the facility to remain indoors.
But only 15.6 percent and 18.8 percent of the respondents, respectively, said they knew of the instructions by March 12.
Among residents of the town of Namie, located within a 10-km radius of the plant, only 9.7 percent were informed of the emergency declaration by March 12.
The communication infrastructure in the coastal town was knocked out by the earthquake and tsunami, which also caused power blackouts in the area.
The government sequentially extended evacuation areas, and residents in a 20- to 30-km radius of the plant were instructed to remain sheltered indoors on March 15.
In another startling finding, only 63.2 percent of the respondents said they were informed of the March 15 instruction by the end of April--a full six weeks later--and 59.9 percent said they complied with the guidance.
The triple meltdown at the Fukushima plant led to the release of vast amounts of radioactive materials into the environment. After the disaster, local governments in areas surrounding nuclear plants around the country mapped out evacuation plans that call for residents living within a 30-km radius of a plant to remain sheltered until radiation readings reach a certain level.
The survey results show that local governments need to devise better systems to ensure that residents are promptly informed in times of emergency.
(This article was written by Shinichi Sekine, a staff writer, and Hisashi Hattori, a senior staff writer.)