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Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Disclosing radiation data
The government on April 21 declared a 20-km, no-entry zone around the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Violators face fines of up to ¥100,000 and detention of up to 30 days.
The decision affects some 78,000 people. Another government decision, announced the next day, requires residents in some areas outside the zone to evacuate their homes by late May, because the accumulated radiation level over a year since the start of the nuclear crisis on March 11 is likely to reach 20 millisieverts - a safety standard set by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Rice planting in and outside the 20-km zone will be restricted.
People affected by the evacuation orders are incensed. Prime Minister Naoto Kan and other government leaders are paying the price for their failure to disclose relevant information in a timely manner and to explain fully the need for the evacuation. Without clear grounds for the directive, people will not comply.
Only in late March did the education ministry disclose radiation levels monitored at 150 locations at a distance of one to 21 km from the stricken nuclear power plant. The ministry's excuse was that it postponed the disclosure after consulting with the government's nuclear disaster countermeasure headquarters. This behavior deepened people's distrust of the government.
The Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) has so far disclosed only two radiation level maps made by SPEEDI, or Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information, a computer simulation program that determines or predicts dispersions of radioactive substances released by a nuclear accident based on a division of the nation into geographic grids of 250 by 250 meters each - this despite the fact that the NSC made more than 2,000 maps based on trial calculations.
The government must disclose information on radiation levels at frequent intervals so that people near the nuclear power plant can accurately gauge the risks to their health.
To begin to end the nuclear crisis, the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. must quickly install a system to circulate water to cool the stricken reactors without leaking contaminated water into the environment.