Japan to review nuclear emergency guidelines following recent earthquake

6 February 2024

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) is to review its evacuation guidelines after the earthquake in January that devastated the Noto Peninsula. The 7.6 magnitude quake damaged roads around the Shika NPP in Ishikawa Prefecture that would be used by local residents during an evacuation and also destroyed many buildings, leaving some areas inaccessible for more than a week.

Under current evacuation plans, residents of the district would go to the neighbouring town of Noto to the northeast, but this would have moved the evacuees closer to the epicenter of latest quake.

NRA's current disaster response guidelines stipulate how residents should be evacuated when a serious accident occurs. People within five kilometres of a NPP will be given priority. Those within 5-30 kilometres will initially be instructed to stay indoors at home or in evacuation centres before being evacuated in stages depending on the situation.

Japan’s Cabinet Office said 435 people in eight districts in the town of Anamizu and the city of Wajima remained isolated a week after the earthquake. Residents of the two Ishikawa municipalities would be instructed to stay indoors in the event of an emergency at the Shika plant.

Of the 11 national or prefectural roads in Ishikawa that would be used as evacuation routes from the districts, seven suffered significant damage. National Route 249 to Wajima from Shika, and the Noto-Satoyama Kaido expressway, which leads to the prefectural capital of Kanazawa, are still partly closed over a month after the quake.

NRA decided in January to revise its disaster guidelines, mainly re-examining matters related to shelter-in-place orders and will consider criteria for determining the duration of such orders and the timing of lifting them. Japan Times citied an NRA official saying that the Noto Peninsula quake "highlighted the question of whether people will be able to shelter indoors” as well as "how to deal with isolated areas”. Some 27,000 residential buildings were damaged in nine municipalities within a 30 kilometre radius of the Shika plant.

NRA Chairman Shinsuke Yamanaka said the agency plans to begin discussions on the revision in mid-February, stressing the need for "coordination between measures for general disasters and those for nuclear disasters”.

Image: The Shika nuclear power plant in Ishikawa (courtesy of Hokuriku)

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