Tokyo Shinbun has another incredible, unbelievable report on how the Japanese government worked (or rather, didn't work) during the first 5 days of the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant accident that started on March 11, 2011.
You've read about Fukushima Prefecture deleting the emails that had SPEEDI simulation graphics earlier. Now you're about to learn about the Off-Site Centers.
The Off-Site Centers are located near the nuclear power plants, usually within 10 kilometers from a nuclear power plant. There are 16 of them in Japan, and in case of a nuclear emergency these Off-Site Centers act as the local headquarters for nuclear disaster response.
Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant had one, 5 kilometers west of the plant in Okuma-machi. The officials and the staff who manned the Off-Site Center in Okuma-machi fled the Center on March 15 as the radiation levels shot up to 1 millisievert/hour, leaving the mayors of towns and cities in the affected areas to fend for themselves without any actionable information from the Off-Site Center.
Not only that. The Tokyo Shinbun article says the Okuma-machi Off-Site Center didn't even have a map that covered the areas outside the 10-kilometer radius from the plant. The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency doesn't have a plan to fit the Centers with maps that show outside the 10-kilometer radius, because no formal decision has been made to revise the nuclear emergency zoning.
Bureaucrats remain bureaucrats, no matter what. Particularly the Japanese variety. Not even the worst nuclear accident is likely to change them.
From Tokyo Shinbun (3/22/2012; the link won't last long, emphasis is mine)
Nuclear Power Plant Off-Site Center doesn't have maps outside the 10-kilometer radius, even today
There are still no detailed maps that show the areas outside the 10-kilometers from the nuclear power plants at the nation's 16 Off-Site Center (OFC) which will act as the local headquarters in case of a nuclear accident. In the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant accident, the evacuation zone was expanded to the 20-kilometer radius on the 2nd day of the accident. But since there was no map, [the officials at the center] took too long to determine which residents to evacuate. Drastic changes are necessary for the Off-Site Centers including the locations of the Centers that are too close to the nuclear power plants. But one year since the accident, they still don't even have decent maps.
Shinichi Kuroki of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry looks back on the early days of the accident. ""There is no map!" we panicked. Someone finally found a map somewhere, and started to draw lines on the map." Kuroki was at the Off-Site Center in Fukushima on March 12 last year when a hydrogen explosion blew up the reactor building of Reactor 1 and the evacuation zone was expanded from the 10-kilometer radius to the 20-kilometer radius.
The current system designates the area inside the 8 to 10 kilometer radius from a nuclear power plant as Emergency Planning Zone (EPZ), and the evacuation plan for the area should be in place.
However, the real nuclear accident affected much wider areas. Even when they wanted to instruct the municipalities about the expansion of the evacuation zone to the areas inside the 20-kilometer radius, the evacuation plan and the detailed map were only for the areas inside 10-kilometer radius. Since they didn't have the map [outside the 10-kilometer radius], it took too long to accurately assign the districts for evacuation.
In its interim report, the accident investigation commission set up by the government (the cabinet office) harshly criticizes the officials at the Off-Site Center. "People in charge of evacuating the residents could not identify the areas to evacuate, and they couldn't answer the inquiries from the affected municipalities."
Based on this lesson, one expert committee in the Nuclear Safety Commission has decided to designate the areas inside the 5-kilometer radius as Precautionary Action Zone (PAZ), and the areas inside the 30-kilometer radius as Urgent Protective Action Planning Zone (UPZ) where the residents would evacuate depending on the levels of radiation.
Six years ago, NISA pressured the Nuclear Safety Commission to forgo the expansion of these zones.
But the plan to equip the Off-Site Centers with the maps [that covers wider areas] is going very slow. To our inquiry, the person in charge at NISA said, "We haven't checked individual Centers, but there are no maps outside the EPZs."
He said it was because a new guideline for disaster prevention hadn't been formally approved yet, and that they would wait and see how the discussion would go before deciding which areas the maps should cover.
Currently, there are only two reactors operating in Japan. But even when the reactors are stopped, there is a possibility of a severe accident like Reactor 4 at Fukushima I Nuke Plant if the cooling systems fail.
If a nuclear reactor fails again in Japan, the bureaucrats in the national government will continue to split hairs, playing Sir Humphrey. No doubt about it.