Life is not getting any easier at the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant. On Friday, a 7.1 earthquake rocked the plant, and at 5.16 pm this afternoon Japan time [8.16 am GMT] another powerful magnitude 6.6 quake struck less than 100 km to the southeast. The quake disrupted operations for about an hour and left the damaged reactors without cooling water for almost an hour, according to Kyodo News. It serves as a reminder that the situation at the site itself remains very fragile indeed.
Meanwhile, the government has announced further evacuations around the plant. This afternoon Japan Time, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano unveiled planned evacuations from regions where radiation exposure rates were above 20 millisieverts per year, a level set by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the International Commission on Radiation Protection.
Under the new plan the towns of Katsuta, Namie, and Itatemura, along with portions of Kawamata and Minamisoma will be evacuated over the next month (because authorities are worried about the accumulated dose, the evacuations need not be hasty). Edano adds that those living within 30 km of the plant should be prepared for emergency evacuation, should conditions change.
The new evacuation zones show an increasing level of sophistication from Japanese authorities, who until now have concentrated mainly on setting up circular exclusion zones. As I’ve mentioned before, weather conditions can carry radiation further than the exclusion zones and the new evacuations are a sign that the government now has enough fallout data to begin formulate a long-term plan to protect its citizens.
Many citizens, though, are not happy with the way things are going. On Sunday, thousands marched in Tokyo to protest nuclear energy. Meanwhile, Fukushima’s governor is refusing to meet with executives from the Tokyo Electric Power Company which runs the plant. Bottom line: authorities may be finally getting a handle on the nuclear fallout from the plant, but it seems the political fallout may be just beginning.
For full coverage of the Fukushima disaster, go to Nature’s news special.
For a selection of our coverage in Japanese, see Nature Asia Pacific.