The problem has come into focus as procedures for the first proposed
restart enter the home stretch in Ichikikushikino, a town five km
(three miles) from Kyushu Electric Power Co's Sendai plant.
The government, facing the first summer in 40 years without nuclear
power, is fielding complaints from residents who say key points have
been missed in planning for any mass evacuation.
Local authorities approve restarts, but Ichikikushikino, as only a
neighboring town, does not get any final say in the matter. That
didn't stop more than half its 30,000 residents from signing a
petition opposing it.
"The (evacuation) plan itself is very sloppy, just slotting bits and
pieces into a manual without giving any consideration to the special
features of the area," said Zenyu Niga, a Buddhist monk whose
mountain-side temple overlooks the Sendai plant.
Residents say a narrow road designated as an evacuation route
regularly floods at high tide. A day care center has no evacuation
plan at all. One evacuation center is a run-down building with
Niga, who was attending a public meeting where officials explained
evacuation plans, said he feared the region, served by three
congested highways, could face panic in an evacuation.
"I feel very worried after seeing what happened in Fukushima," he
An earthquake, tsunami and multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima
Daiichi plant in March 2011 marked the worst nuclear disaster since
Chernobyl in 1986. Some 150,000 residents left surrounding areas.
Sixty people died, mainly elderly patients herded onto buses from
hospitals and nursing facilities. Others ended up in areas found to
have higher radiation levels than the places they left.
Stricter safety standards have been put in place and Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe's government, keen to cut imports of costly fossil fuels,
is pushing for reactor restarts.
All 48 reactors were eventually taken offline amid public outrage at
the handling of the crisis.
Nine utilities have since applied to restart 19 reactors.
Sendai, chosen to lead the revival, could secure approval for its
two units as early as September. With the governor of Kagoshima
prefecture and the mayor of the plant's host city of Satsumasendai
strongly in favor, a green light is all but certain.
But scepticism in Ichikikushikino and other coastal towns, which do
not share in the jobs and government subsidies linked to the nuclear
industry, could delay the restart.
Ichikikushikino's city council promised last week to submit the
residents' petition to the governor.
And there may be a reassessment or revision of plans drawn up by
local officials to have residents pile into cars and buses and drive
along highways to pre-assigned evacuation centers.
Any town within a 30-km radius of a nuclear plant must create an
evacuation plan, while schools, hospitals and elderly care
facilities are asked to set their own emergency plans.
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Kiyoko Kojima, 75, who works at a day-care center 13 km from the
plant, said the facility, with 60 children in its charge, had no
"I haven't heard anything about an emergency plan. I'm not even sure
whether we wait for the parents to come pick up the children or we
evacuate right away," she said.
LACK OF EXPERTISE
In the event of an accident at Sendai, more than 210,000 residents
would have to be moved.
In Ibusuki, a town 80 km south of Ichikikushikino, one reception
center is a run-down, two-storey building for 90 evacuees, providing
only 2 sq meters per person.
Researchers say local governments lack expertise and resources to
"There aren't enough people at the state and local level doing
simulations of evacuation plans," said Hirotada Hirose of Tokyo
Woman's Christian University.
"This plan is based on a set of highly unrealistic assumptions and I
have to question whether this is a true simulation."
National regulators are unlikely to step into the breach.
The newly established Nuclear Regulation Authority is bogged down in
regulatory hearings since laying down stringent guidelines for plant
restarts a year ago. Officials reject any notion of a more active
role in emergency planning.
Even supporters of restarts have doubts about the plans.
Toyoji Fukuzono, 61, a retired fisherman, questioned a route
requiring 1,600 residents to travel down a narrow road that
routinely floods at high tide.
"We just want you to consider actual road conditions," he told a
town hall meeting. "You know there's regular flooding and
(Writing by Mari Saito; Editing by Edmund Klamann and Ron Popeski)
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