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» Gov’t preparing nuclear evacuation shelter on an island near nuclear plant

The national government is preparing a temporary nuclear evacuation shelter on an island offshore of this town, which houses a nuclear power station, as the island has no access to the mainland to evacuate. Local residents, however, have expressed concern over the lack of evacuation plans in case of a nuclear emergency.

Izushima Island was home to some 500 people before the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The island measures some 14 kilometers in circumference. While the shortest distance between the island and the mainland is only about 200 meters, there is no bridge connection. When tsunami hit the island on March 11, 2011, it knocked out power and the water supplies, and residents spent the night isolated from the mainland.

If the Onagawa nuclear power plant, some 5 kilometers southwest of the island, was battered by the disaster, Izushima residents “could have been abandoned on the island,” said Izushima Ward chief Minoru Sakai.

There is a sea route between the island and the mainland, and boats make three roundtrips a day. However, as the port was damaged in the disaster, boats could not reach the shore. As a result, Izushima residents were stuck on the island until Self-Defense Force personnel rescued them in helicopters the day after the disaster.

All Izushima residents evacuated following the disaster, but the number of those who has come back in the past three years is less than 100. As local elementary and junior high schools were integrated into schools in the mainland, households with children have left the island to settle elsewhere, and now most of the island population is made up of residents who are in their 60s and older.

While many of the residents travel between the island and the mainland on fishing boats during the day, transportation becomes unavailable in times of bad weather and during the night.

“It will be difficult to evacuate all of the elderly in times of emergencies,” Sakai said.

Parts of a now-vacant school building are being remodeled into a temporary evacuation shelter in case of nuclear emergency. The shelter, equipped with radiation removal filters and airlock rooms that block outdoor air, is planned to be completed by the end of fiscal 2014. It will store enough food for some 70 people to survive for three days.

The cost for the shelter, as well as a gym planned to be built on another island within Onagawa, is estimated to be around 400 million yen, which will be covered by the government. Sakai, however, says the shelter is only meant to be used for temporary evacuation. “We would eventually have to flee the island, but I wonder if anyone would be willing to rescue us if radiation surrounds the island.”

According to Onagawa officials in charge of nuclear management, the town’s evacuation plan is to house Izushima residents in the shelter, and then rescue them with helicopters. However, details of the plan have not been set as the town must rely on Self-Defense Forces or the Miyagi Prefectural Government when arranging helicopters and pilots.

<Media Report>
Residents of Miyagi island seek evacuation plan in case of nuclear plant disaster(Mainichi Newspaper)

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