|Fig. 1: The Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)|
On March 11, 2011, the tsunami following the Tohoku earthquake hit the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima, Japan.  As a result, the Japanese government ordered roughly 98,000 residents in the surrounding area to evacuate.  The lack of clear evacuation guidelines, coupled with poor communication between the government and the residents, however, slowed down the evacuation process by considerable amount. The inefficient, unorderly evacuation process during the Fukushima accident made the government realize the need for a better evacuation plan.
A year after the 2011 accident, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) of Japan brought forth a set of new guidelines for evacuation. The new guidelines first re-defined the required evacuation area. Previously, NRA required evacuation for those living within 8 km radius of the power plant site. However, after witnessing the seriousness of the Fukushima accident, the organization expanded the radius from 8 to 30 km. Although the new rule has been created in reaction to the nuclear accident in Fukushima, it took a whole month for those living within 30 km radius from the Fukushima nuclear power plant to be evacuated. Only three out of ten local governments received the evacuation order from the central government and those that did receive the orders failed to deliver the news to all the residents. In fact, only 40 to 60% of the people received evacuation orders.  Once again, poor communication posed a problem in formulating a more efficient evacuation plan.
In addition to the expansion of evacuation area, NRA also ordered all major local governments to develop detailed communication methods, evacuation routes, and destinations for their residents. The evacuation plan were particularly geared towards the needs of those living in the Precautionary Action Zone (area within 5 km radius of the nuclear power plant) and the Urgent Protective Action Planning Zone (area within more than 5 but less than 30 km radius of the nuclear power plant). 
NRA's revised guidelines do offer improved evacuation plans. For the new guidelines to work well, however, fast and smooth communication seems essential. Practice drills that focus on evacuating those in the Precautionary Action Zone and Urgent Protective Action Planning Zone may also be helpful to prepare for future accidents. Nuclear Energy is an important, valuable energy source for Japan. If Japan continues to make improvements, correct its mistakes from lessons learned from the incidents such as the Fukushima accident, it will eventually be able to maximize the benefits of nuclear energy. 
© Chae Uhm. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.
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