Children walk across the playground at Oyama Primary School in Otama Village, Fukushima Pref., Japan on May 27, 2011. New government regulations regarding acceptable radiation doses for children led to the school removing the top soil of the playground and burying it 1 meter below the surface. Photo: Rob Gilhooly
Reports emerged yesterday that radiation levels exceeding the safety limits set by the Japanese government were recorded at school playgrounds near Tokyo.
Officials of the educational board in Chiba Prefecture, which neighbours Tokyo, reported that five schools in the Chiba city of Kashiwa had detected radiation levels of up to 0.72 microsieverts per hour in areas of the schools, including playgrounds and near swimming pools, more than triple the government-set limit.
Kashiwa is among a number of areas in the Kanto region, which includes Tokyo, where high radiation readings have been detected since the 2011 nuclear disaster at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Meanwhile, the man who headed the parliamentary investigation into the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster has voiced criticisms of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his administration’s policies on restarting reactors, saying that proper evacuation plans are still to be effectuated at plants that have been restarted or where restarts are imminent.
Kiyoshi Kurokawa, who was chairman of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, questioned evacuation measures during a meeting of the Lower House ad hoc committee for research of nuclear power issues on June 12. His main questions related to what would happen in the event of another major tsunami and how effective rescue operations would be if vehicles had limited access in the face of similar destruction to roads that was experienced following the March 2011 disasters in Japan's Tohoku region.
Kurosawa's main concern was the restarts over the past month of two reactors of the Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture. Although the plants were given the green light following new stress tests and other surveys under new safety regulations set by Japan's nuclear regulator, many have been critical of the efficacy of those new guidelines.
This issue is touched upon in "Yoshida's Dilemma." Irrespective of the guidelines and their effectiveness or otherwise, some disaster response officials have noted a lack of suitable updates to the disaster response system itself. One fire department official who was directly involved with efforts to bring the nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi under control told me that there had been no efforts to improve the disaster response measures and that still there were no nuclear accident-specific measures in place. He also expressed criticism of the lack of autonomy and self-governance among Japan's emergency response services, saying a system such as FEMA in the US was needed in Japan too. He gave the example of paramedics in the US who are able to make on-the-spot decisions regarding medical response, something he said is "unthinkable" in Japan, where too much emphasis is given to correct protocol and avoidance of responsibility for fear of legal consequences.