In developing and executing policies concerning the evacuation of residents living in areas around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the government should place the highest importance on the well-being of the local residents.

As the government has hurriedly announced a spate measures concerning evacuation, anxiety and resentment have grown among residents in the affected areas.

It is crucial for the government to pay more attention to the requests of the residents and give them better explanations about its evacuation-related plans so that both sides will be in agreement.

The 20-kilometer radius evacuation zone around the embattled nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture was designated on April 22 as a “no-entry zone,” making the entire area effectively off-limits to everyone. This is a drastic measure involving police blockades of roads leading into the zone.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said residents in the zone will be allowed within several days to return to their homes temporarily to retrieve valuables. But only one member of each household will be permitted to go, under government supervision, for visits not to exceed two hours.

This announcement provoked outbursts of discontent among residents, and many rushed to their homes before the area was sealed off, causing great confusion.

Did the government give the residents a sufficient explanation in advance about the reasons for taking the new measure?

Take the current levels of radiation in the affected areas, for instance.

After Edano’s announcement, the latest data about radiation levels in the atmosphere within the 20-km zone measured by the Science Ministry were released. The data showed the levels of radiation at various locations within the zone to be widely different.

At 10 percent of the measurement sites, the current levels could cause residents to receive a health-threatening dose of 100 millisieverts of radiation over the course of a year, according to the data.

But at nearly half of the measured locations, the cumulative radiation exposure would be less than 20 millisieverts per year–the government-set threshold for evacuation.

The government owes the residents a detailed and convincing explanation based on data and other facts about why areas with low radiation levels need to be included in the no-entry zone.

Meanwhile, the government has added five municipalities outside the 20-km zone to the list of areas covered by its evacuation advisory. Residents in these communities are required to leave by the end of May.

The evacuation of residents within the 20-km zone was a step taken in response to the danger of the release of large amounts of radioactive materials from the stricken reactors.

But the reason cited for advising residents of all or part of the five towns and villages outside the 20-km zone to evacuate is the possibility that the cumulative radiation exposure over the next year could surpass the 20-millisievert safety limit.

The residents are required to leave their home towns and villages, abandoning their sources of livelihoods, such as rice paddies, fields and livestock, and find new places to live, all within one month. That will be no easy task.

Norio Kanno, mayor of the village of Iitate, which has been entirely designated as an evacuation area, urges the government to weigh more carefully the huge burden the measure will impose on the villagers.

The radiation safety standards set by the International Commission on Radiological Protection prescribe exposure levels between cumulative 20-100 millisieverts per year for an evacuation in a nuclear emergency.

The residents in affected areas need to hear the government make a convincing case for adopting the strictest 20-millisiervert level for the evacuation policy.

The government should also make sure that the evacuees will receive the support they need.

Monitoring of radiation levels within the evacuation zone should continued to be carried out at as diverse times and places as possible in order to provide sufficient data to the residents.

The evacuation areas should also be reviewed in a flexible manner.

–The Asahi Shimbun, April 23

 

http://www.asahi.com/english/TKY201104230184.html