Japan’s Nuclear Emergency Zone Study Shows Worldwide Deficiencies

Japan’s new nuclear agency released a series of radiation release and plume path models. These are based on a 30km (18.64 miles) emergency evacuation zone that Japan’s nuclear regulator is now saying they will make the standard. The old zone was 10 kilometers (6 miles). These models showed that even the new 30km evacuation zones were insufficient in many cases leaving those outside the evacuation zone exposed to high levels of radiation.

Four plants had high levels beyond 30km (18.64 miles). Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata prefecture had high radiation in populated areas about 40.2 kilometers from the plant. The other three plants examined are Fukushima Daini in Fukushima prefecture, the Ohi plant in Fukui prefecture and the Hamaoka plant in Shizuoka prefecture. 12 plants had high levels out into the 30km zone (18.64 miles).

These plume maps also showed that many areas could end up with a radiation plume concentrated where the escape routes are. At the Oi nuclear plant things were quite bad, this is a plant that already has many high risk safety problems and a restricted evacuation ability. The plume would extend all the way to Kyoto, one of the areas people are told to flee to. Kyoto is the home to 1.4 million people. The routes to Kyoto from the Oi area are in the plume path. The plume also shows high contamination would hit Lake Biwa, the main fresh water source for that region.

The even more disturbing revelation is that the plume goes far beyond the 50km (31 miles) range of the map. This could potentially put contamination all the way to Osaka, a city of 2.8 million people.

These new reports show that even Japan’s new 30km evacuation zones are insufficient in most cases.

Evacuation Reality: 

The initial evacuation zones in Fukushima were 3km (1.8 miles) to evacuate and 10km (6.21 miles) to stay inside (shelter in place). This was announced about 6 hours after the earthquake hit. 14 hours and 45 minutes after the earthquake, workers had to vent one of the reactors to prevent a catastrophic failure of the containment structure. Just over 24 hours after the earthquake hit the first reactor exploded showering the remaining residents of Futaba with radioactive debris from the reactor building. Futaba is about 3km (1.86 miles) from the plant. Residents of Futaba were still trying to flee when the first reactor was vented releasing a huge amount of radiation into the atmosphere that reached that area. There was also radiation noticed at the gates of the plant before the initial venting and explosions. The Fukushima evacuation zone had about 200,000 people, far smaller and more rural than many other places.

A US NRC official as recently as this week still declared there are DAYS to evacuate in an accident. It took less than 15 hours for Fukushima to release large amounts of radiation on the fleeing population. The NRC offical also stated that a reactor won’t explode like a bomb, referring to a nuclear bomb but ignoring the very real risk of a hydrogen explosion or required venting that both are known from Fukushima to release considerable amounts of radiation onto the nearby population. It took just over 24 hours for exactly that to happen to the population around Fukushima. These overly optimistic declarations come from old studies done for the NRC in 2007.

The map below shows the estimated plume paths and spread for the Oi nuclear plant in Japan with a 30km (18 mile) outer zone. The two inner circles represent the evacuation zone of 3km (1.86 miles) and the shelter in place zone of 10km (6.21 miles) activated right after the Fukushima disaster spiraled out of control, overlayed on the Oi map. Both the evacuation zone and the shelter in place zone receive equally high radiation. The high radiation levels stretch far beyond the 50km area of the map. German evacuation zones are about 10km (6.21 miles) and US are 16km (10 miles) but new rules do not evacuate the entire US zone.


Evacuation Zones:

The US has a 10 mile (16km) evacuation zone around nuclear plants but have stated they may not issue evacuation orders for everyone inside that zone. Instead they intend to ask only select people to leave based on their location and prevailing winds. Most evacuation zones in Germany are 10km (6.21 miles) some are 2km (1.24 miles) and 10km (6.21 miles) with an outer 25km (15.53 miles) zone. The IAEA suggests 30km evacuation zones (18.84 miles), the US and Germany do not meet that standard. The IAEA also suggests evacuating anywhere the levels reach 100 mSv, the Japanese models found this quickly would happen even outside the 30km zone. The US also declared an 80km evacuation suggestion around Fukushima Daiichi yet impose no such idea back in the US.


Germany received the same rude awakening that Japan just did when scenarios were run using data from Fukushima. It showed that the wind changed frequently putting multiple areas at risk and that the current 8-10km zones were insufficient. This modeling showed the exact same thing the Japanese modeling showed, that heavy radiation would contaminate far further than 30km, In one situation 640,000 people would have to be evacuated. In Japan in the situation of the Oi nuclear plant millions would need to be evacuated.

Germany’s nuclear disaster planning generally looks well planned out as we found by reviewing the evacuation handouts for various plants. Even with all of this planning and communication it is unclear if equipment is in place. It is also not clear if alternative routes are considered in case roads are out or what would be done to quickly move an already evacuated population should the plume path move. This is something that happened to evacuees in Fukushima. Even Germany’s plans don’t account for a disaster the size of Fukushima.
German Evacuation Handouts:

United States:

The US plans show an evacuation zone of about 10 miles (16km) half of what Japan has now moved to. The US has also quietly instituted changes in late 2011 to scale back evacuation plans based on some pre-Fukushima calculations now proven by Fukushima to be unrealistic. The NRC revisions to evacuation zones include a number of ideas we know to be not accurate:
Accidents will develop more slowly than thought
Fukushima was drastically faster than the NRC assumes. 15 hours, not multiple days.
Buildings designed to contain radiation leaks will hold. 
Fukushima proved this is not the case as 4 of the reactors failed and now leak radiation in considerable amounts over a year and a half after the disaster.
Emergency plans will work. 
Fukushima left local government lost with no information to act with, prefecture and national government was in chaos and did not make needed information such as radiation and plume data public so people could react appropriately. There were not enough resources to get people out, evacuate hospitals or distribute protective iodine.
Responders will do their jobs. 
In Fukushima private fire department staff refused to be deployed, Tokyo Fire Department insisted on detailed information before they would agree to risk firefighters safety and even the SDF fled the area multiple times as those on the ground determined conditions to be too dangerous to stay at that time.
Ninety percent of those told to stay put will obey. 
Many in Fukushima fled of their own motivation if they were able to obtain enough information and had the ability. Expecting 90% of people within 10 miles of a nuclear disaster to stay put defies human nature and common sense. Those with the ability will try to leave if they can. Sheltering in place also poses considerable risks beyond radiation exposure. The practice requires sealing up a house and turning off any air conditioning or forced air heating. In certain parts of the US and around the world this could quickly prove deadly during certain times of the year due to extreme temperatures. The NRC and other safety authorities around the world ignore this risk.

Evacuation plans and public communication differ greatly. The population around the Quad Cities nuclear plant might receive this brochure while people near the Monticello nuclear plant would receive a very different one. Of note in the Minnesota plan there are requirements to sign papers before a disaster to allow the administration of protective iodine to children evacuated by schools and daycare centers. Minnesota also requires people to go to a designated pharmacy before the disaster to pick up protective iodine tablets. It is not clear how well this information is distributed to the local population. In the Quad Cities brochure it mentions that only IL citizens may bring pets to shelters. Iowa residents are encouraged to leave them behind. Livestock and pet abandonment in Fukushima has caused a considerable problem on top of all the other problems there. The disaster preparedness information is usually only distributed to those in the NRC 10 mile evacuation zone, if at all. Anyone outside that zone would have little understanding about what to do, adding to the chaos as further away zones would become part of the evacuation area. Many in these NRC evacuation zones already know the futility of these plans and have chosen to simply ignore the evacuation information knowing it will not work.

*SimplyInfo member Peter Melzer has an extensive write up of the evacuation conditions for the North Anna nuclear plant in Virginia here

The US is downgrading evacuation rules and practices at the same time we know that evacuations at Fukushima were not enough. Plume modeling shows that the old evacuation plans were grossly insufficient in all countries. Major cities like Washington DC, New York City, San Diego and Minneapolis/St. Paul all sit within the ranges of danger found in this plume modeling. Osaka and Kyoto are now known to be impacted in a disaster at Oi and even many German reactors put large nearby populations at risk.

Fukushima has shown how hard it really is to evacuate even a small population during a major disaster in a short period of time. It has also shown that all current assumptions on the scope and distance of nuclear disasters have been grossly underestimated. It is also now coming out that the population exposed in Fukushima may indeed have been considerably exposed in some circumstances and that the government has been admittedly downplaying the health risks and radiation levels.





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