The problem is there may not be nearly enough vehicles to move huge numbers of people to safety.
Some prefectures already realize they would be lucky to assemble just half the number of buses for the job.
There is also opposition from bus companies, which say they will not subject their drivers to hazardous radiation risks.
In a 10-kilometer radius of Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, which has passed safety checks for a restart, surveys show that local governments can charter only one-fourth of buses that would be needed to evacuate residents.
Although the prefecture plans to sign an agreement with the prefectural association of bus companies to preferentially charter vehicles, a local bus drivers’ union said it will oppose the plan unless safety measures for drivers are mapped out.
According to evacuation plans submitted by Satsuma-Sendai, the city hosting the nuclear plant, and surrounding municipalities within a 30-km radius of the plant, people who need nursing care and others without family cars will have to evacuate by bus.
In response to the prefectural government’s inquiries, authorities in Satsuma-Sendai and Ichiki-Kushikino said they would need 415 buses that can accommodate 30 to 50 passengers each to evacuate all residents from a 10-km radius of the nuclear plant.
The two cities own only a handful of buses, and would rely on chartered private buses in the event of a serious accident.
The number of buses owned by about 80 companies of the Kagoshima bus association totaled around 2,200 at the end of last year. Most of these buses, however, are route buses, which are not suitable for evacuating residents.
Association officials said that they can only dispatch about 100 buses in the area. In order to evacuate all residents in nine municipalities in a 30-km radius of the plant, it will require far more buses.
During an earlier session at the prefectural assembly, officials said they plan to sign an agreement with the Kagoshima bus association, but no progress in that regard.
In addition to the lack of buses, the void of safety measures to prevent bus drivers from being exposed to radiation during an evacuation casts a shadow on plans by local governments to use chartered buses.
Central government guidelines stipulate that ordinary people such as bus drivers must not be exposed to more than 1 millisievert of radiation annually in normal situations. However, there are no measures in place to deal with those who are exposed to higher readings.
In addition, rules for distributing potassium iodide tablets to protect against thyroid cancer due to radiation have yet to be devised.
“Unless measures to ensure the safety of bus drivers are put in place, we will not dispatch our bus drivers," said Shuichi Morita, chairman of a labor union for workers of private railway companies in Kagoshima Prefecture. “Even if the prefectural government reaches an agreement with the Kagoshima bus association, it is up to each bus company to decide whether to dispatch their drivers.”
Tetsuro Kawahara, an executive director of the Kagoshima bus association, said all its member companies must be in agreement if a deal is to be reached with the prefecture. Officials acknowledged that prospects of reaching an agreement quickly are uncertain.
During a meeting in July in Saga Prefecture of prefectural governors from across Japan, Tottori Governor Shinji Hirai said more than 1,000 buses would be needed to evacuate residents in the event of an accident at Chugoku Electric Power Co.’s Shimane nuclear power plant in Matsue.
“We can only prepare 500 buses, even if we gather every bus in Tottori Prefecture,” the governor said. As many as 470,000 people live in a 30-km radius of the plant in Shimane and Tottori prefectures.
To evacuate all residents from the area, Shimane Prefecture alone will need more than 5,000 buses, according to estimates.
But the number of buses available in the prefecture totals around 500.
“We cannot arrange that many buses within this prefecture," said a Shimane prefectural official. "We have requested that the central government negotiate with industry groups to provide the necessary vehicles.”
During an Aug. 29 news conference, Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida asked if it is realistic for residents to rely on chartered private buses in a case of a nuclear disaster. The prefecture hosts Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant.
“Is it possible to make drivers from private bus companies work in areas that are highly contaminated with radiation?” Izumida asked.
Officials at Fukushima Prefecture’s Nuclear Power Safety Division said they had not confirmed reports that bus companies refused to send vehicles due to concern for drivers’ safety during evacuation procedures for the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
But some trucks transporting relief goods did refuse to enter areas that were highly contaminated with radiation, according to the officials.
“A private company can face legal charges if its employees are exposed to radiation because of work orders," said an official of Niigata Prefecture. "Even if we sign an agreement with bus companies, it will not ensure the efficacy of such an evacuation plan.”
(This article was written by Masanobu Higashiyama and Hiroki Koike.)
Source: Asahi Shimbun