Dr Ian Fairlie: ‘Evacuations after Severe Nuclear Accidents’

January 27, 2018

This article discusses three related matters –

  1. The experience of evacuations during the Fukushima nuclear disaster
  2. Whether lengthy evacuations from large cities are feasible?
  3. Some emergency plans for evacuations in North America

(a) Introduction

If another severe nuclear accident, such as Windscale (in 1957), Chernobyl (1986) or Fukushima (2011) were to occur then the adverse health effects would primarily depend on wind direction and on the nature of the accident. The main responses to a nuclear disaster are shelter, evacuation and stable iodine prophylaxis. The most important, in terms of preventing future cancer epidemics, is evacuation. This article is based on North American evacuation plans. Little is known of UK emergency evacuation plans as few are publicly available.

In North American plans, if a severe nuclear accident were to occur, able citizens would be requested to leave designated evacuation/no entry zones under their own steam and to find accommodation with family and friends in uncontaminated areas. At the same time, Government authorities would evacuate prisons, hospitals, nursing homes, care homes and certain schools.

Little, if any, consideration seems to have been given to how long such evacuations would last. For example, the large majority of the 160,000 people who left or were evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture, Japan during the accident in March 2011 are still living outside the Prefecture. Many are living in makeshift shelters eg shipping containers or prefab houses.

At present, the Japanese Government is attempting to force evacuees (by withdrawing state compensation) to return to less contaminated areas, with little success. Currently, ~7 years after the accident, an area of about 1,000 square km is still subject to evacuation and no entry orders. This compares with the area of 2,700 square km still evacuated and subject to no or restricted entry at Chernobyl ~32 years after the accident.

(b) Experience of the Fukushima Evacuation

In 2015 and 2016, the author visited Fukushima Prefecture in Japan with international study teams. These study tours were informative as they revealed information about the evacuations that differed from official accounts by TEPCO and the Japanese Government. From many discussions with local mayors, councillors, local health groups and small community groups, the following information was revealed.

Read more here:  Evacuations after Severe Nuclear Accidents

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