In the event of a nuclear meltdown, well, go west?

IWATE PREFECTURE – In the event of the unthinkable (yet horribly possible) nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex, we have to wonder: Where would the evacuees go? How will they be cared for?

After all, the half a million residents left homeless by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami are taxing the government’s emergency response, as are infrastructural issues dealing with water, electricity, petrol and in some areas, a rather pronounced food shortage.

NHK reported tonight that there are several remote areas that were hit hard by the tsunami but two weeks on, have not yet been reached by emergency efforts. One man interviewed said he was digging through the rubble of his home for food and burning what was left of the house for heat.

So, then, what will happen if on top of all of this, there needs to be a mass evacuation around the nuclear plant in Fukushima? What will the roads look like then? Where will these folks go?

That isn’t a question anyone seems ready to answer, but the gist of the official response seems to be: We hope they go anywhere but here.

When I put the question to Kazuo Shimizu, a spokesperson for Iwate’s office of government disaster response, he said in all likelihood, most evacuees would go west.

But when I pointed out that there’s more country up north then west of Fukushima (Japan is a narrow country), Shimizu said it was possible, and that “at this time, we do not have a plan for that”.

He was more concerned about getting necessities to those in shelters.

Kimiaki Toda, the mayor of Ofunato, also said there was no plan to deal with evacuees coming to Ofunato (he might have a point – much was lost there, but then, any port in a nuclear storm might do). 

“We will stay inside our homes,” said Toda. But would the homes that remain standing in his devastated city be able to hold anyone coming north? 

“I don’t know about that.” said Toda. “Of course, we will comply with national orders…” whatever they may be. 

Naoto Kan, Japan’s prime minister, gave a press conference tonight saying that the situation at the nuclear plant is “still grave and serious” and that Japan “can’t be in a situation where we’re optimistic”.

Just what is going on at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima is unclear. Certainly, the sense one gets here is that the only ones in the know are the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Co and the impression I get from the people I’ve interviewed is that they’re not certain they’re being given vital information about their own safety.

Every day, there’s news of something burning, steaming or smoking at the plants and advisories on food and water supplies contaminated by radioactive iodine seeping from the unstable reactors don’t help.

Tonight, we learned that tested water in the area of the planted contained 10,000 times the acceptable amount of radioactive iodine. It is speculated by experts on the press here that the source of the radioactive material is reactor number 3, which, they say, is leaking.

Just how damaged that reactor is remains unknown (perhaps cracked pipes leaked coolant rather than damaged the containment function. And even though that’s the best-case scenario, cracked pipes in and of themselves are not good news as functioning ones are needed to maintain cooling).

There’s also aerial footage released by the Japanese security forces, showing the extent of the damage on the reactors, and the images certainly look dramatic.

The control room at the plant still isn’t up and running, and the damage –  such as in the number 1 reactor, where the roof has entirely caved in – doesn’t do much to ease people’s mind.

It’s doubtful that being told they’re expected to move in a westerly direction might do the trick.

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