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DisastersJapan widens evacuation radius

Published 30 March 2011

Japanese officials have enlarged the evacuation zone around the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, as workers continue their struggle to repair the damaged nuclear reactors; last Friday a “voluntary evacuation” of people still living within nineteen miles of the plant was issued; residents within nineteen miles have remained indoors unable to leave their homes to purchase basic supplies and companies have refused to deliver; the voluntary evacuation could add an even greater strain to existing temporary shelters; currently 242,881 people are still living in shelters around the country and officials are struggling to provide enough basic supplies like food, water, and sanitary goods

Japanese officials have enlarged the evacuation zone around the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, as workers continue their struggle to repair the damaged nuclear reactors.

Last Friday Prime Minister Naoto Kan issued a “voluntary evacuation” of people still living within nineteen miles of the plant, but was careful to shy away from indicating that the government was ordering a full evacuation.

Previously nearly 180,000 residents within a twelve mile radius had been ordered to evacuate, while residents in a twelve to nineteen mile radius had been instructed to stay indoors.

“The situation still requires caution. Our measures are aimed at preventing the circumstances from getting worse,” Prime Minister Kan said.

According to Kan, the new voluntary evacuation order comes at the recommendation of Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission. Officials have offered assistance to those who wish to evacuate.

“The state of the plant is still quite precarious. We’re working hard to make sure it doesn’t get worse. We have to ensure there’s no further deterioration,” Kan added.

Since 15 March, residents have remained indoors unable to leave their homes to purchase basic supplies. Residents also cannot move about freely as they lack gasoline and have no access to shopping.

“What we’ve been finding is that in that area life has become quite difficult,” said Noriyuki Shikata, deputy cabinet secretary for the prime minister.

“People don’t want to go into the zone to make deliveries.”

Tired of the anxiety and being confined to their homes without basic necessities, many people have already left of their own accord.

The voluntary evacuation could add an even greater strain to existing temporary shelters. Currently 242,881 people are still living in shelters around the country and officials are struggling to provide enough basic supplies like food, water, and sanitary goods.

In the Iwate prefecture, 383 shelters have reported that cases of influenza are spreading and medical teams have had difficulty reaching shelters to deliver medicine.

On Saturday, Yukiya Amano, the world’s chief nuclear inspector,said that Japan was “still far from the end of the accident” and warned that the nuclear crisis could continue for weeks, if not months.

Amano, who is the International Atomic Energy Agency’s director general, avoided criticizing the Japanese government, but said, “More efforts should be done to put an end to the accident.”

Amano’s announcement came after plant operators at the Fukushima Daiichi noticed sharp increases in radiation levels.

On Sunday part of the plant was evacuated after readings of 1,000 millisieverts an hour had been detected in water puddles. Two workers were hospitalized after stepping in contaminated puddles.

Yukio Edano, a government spokesman, believed that the radioactive puddles had formed as a result of reactor no. 2 being exposed to air.

He added, “We don’t at this time believe they are melting. We’re confident that we are able to keep them cool.”

These elevated radiation levels add an additional challenge to already difficult efforts to repair the plant. According to Tetsuo Iguchi, a quantum engineer professor at Nagoya University, workers would only be able to work for about fifteen minutes when exposed to such high levels of radiation.

Michiaki Furukawa, a nuclear chemist and a board member of the Citizen’s Nuclear Information Center, says that people exposed to 1,000 millisieverts will experience nausea and vomiting, while exposure to 3,000 to 5,000 millisieverts could be deadly.

Plant operators have begun spraying reactors with freshwater due to fears that the saltwater was clogging pipes and coating fuel rods.

The U.S. Navy is sending ships loaded with fresh water to assist with efforts to cool the reactors.