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Gov’t To Raise Maximum Annual Radiation Exposure Ahead Of Restart Of Nuclear Reactors

(JAPAN)  The government will raise the maximum permissible radiation dose for people including local government officials and bus drivers who will give evacuation guidance to local residents or transport materials in the event of a nuclear accident from the current 1 millisievert per year.

At the time of the outbreak of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, efforts to evacuate and transport materials were hampered because a sufficient number of necessary people such as government staff were not secured for the local task force near the crippled nuclear power complex. The government plans to set a new standard for a permissible upper limit of radiation exposure in order to ensure steady and smooth evacuation of local residents as part of preparations ahead of a restart of idled nuclear reactors. But it is likely to raise concerns among local governments near nuclear power plants over whether they will be able to secure sufficient staffing numbers.

The government plans to set up a working group within the Cabinet Office as early as next month to start discussing a new standard. The new maximum permissible radiation dose will be applied mainly to local public servants other than police and fire department officials and local bus and truck drivers.

Under the scheme worked out by the then-Nuclear Safety Commission in 1999, those people who are supposed to guide local residents to evacuate, among other tasks, in the event of a nuclear accident are listed as “persons in charge of anti-disaster operations.” Of such people, police and fire department officials as well as national public servants and other relevant personnel are allowed to be exposed to up to 100 millisieverts per year in emergency situations — far higher than 1 millisievert set for ordinary residents. On the other hand, there is currently no special standard for a permissible upper limit for such people as local government officials and bus drivers and they are subject to the same standard as that for ordinary local residents even in emergency situations.

The working group to be established in the Cabinet Office will be comprised of seven experts including Nagasaki University Vice President Shunichi Yamashita. Apart from the Cabinet Office, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and the nuclear regulatory agency, industry organizations such as the Nihon Bus Association will join the working group.

The working group will ascertain radiation doses to which workers such as local government officials were exposed while working outside the premises of the crippled Fukushima nuclear complex. Based on the findings, the Cabinet Office and the health ministry will set a specific maximum permissible radiation dose.

Currently, nuclear plant workers are allowed to be exposed to up to 100 millisieverts per year and decontamination workers 50 millisieverts per year. The then-Nuclear Safety Commission had held the view that the “appropriate” level of the permissible maximum radiation dose for “persons in charge of anti-disaster operations” was 50 millisieverts per year. But before the commission formally decided on the standard, the Fukushima nuclear accident occurred. A Cabinet Office official in charge said, “As it is possible that local officials and bus drivers will carry out their duty where radiation levels are relatively high, we need a new standard in order to provide effective evacuation guidance as well.”