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Lack of shelters leaves Japan's populace vulnerable to attack

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In the 1950s and 60s, fiction and films swung between apocalyptic novels about nuclear war -- like "Fail-Safe" and "On the Beach" -- to manic black comedies such as director Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove: How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb," which was loosely based on a 1958 novel titled "Red Alert."

Then there was "The Mouse that Roared," in which the Dutchy of Grand Fenwick, a tiny smudge on the map of Europe, declares war in the U.S., mobilizes an army of 20 longbowmen and invades New York City. Its soldiers inadvertently succeed in capturing America's top nuclear scientist and spirit him and his "Q-bomb" prototype back to Europe, to await America's capitulation. All in good fun, of course.

More recently there was the 1999 "Blast from the Past," starring Brendan Fraser, about a 35-year-old man who was born and brought up in a fallout shelter beneath Los Angeles.

In peaceful Japan, air raid shelters have been pretty much out of vogue for the past 78 years. But this is not necessarily a good thing, writes Kazuhisa Hamaguchi, a specially appointed professor at the Takushoku University graduate school, in Yukan Fuji (Nov 9).

For one reason, Japanese live in a rough neighborhood with three countries to its immediate west -- Russia, China and North Korea -- possessing arsenals of nuclear weapons.

The administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has advocated "strengthening defense capabilities." But the so-called "discussion of nuclear deterrence" long advocated by his late predecessor Shinzo Abe during his lifetime has not gained momentum.

Against this backdrop, on November 6th, the Tokyo metropolitan government and national government jointly conducted a resident evacuation drill in the vicinity of Nerima Station on the Toei Subway in Nerima Ward, simulating an attack involving a ballistic missile launched from overseas.

The Nerima Station building has been designated as an "emergency temporary evacuation facility" under the law enacted in 2004 called the "Act concerning the Measures for Protection of the People in Armed Attack Situations, etc."

Nerima aside, Japan still has a long way to go to build up its civil defense for its 120 million people.

It goes without saying that shelters in the modern-day sense of the term are quite unfamiliar to the present generation of Japanese. They must provide protection not only from conventional bombs, but CBR (Chemical, Biological Weapons and Radioactivity). Plus N (Nuclear Weapons) and E (Explosives). In other words, they must temporarily protect the inhabitant from attacks and disasters, and not allow contaminated outside air to enter the interior. Special ventilation equipment will be installed to filter out radioactive and chemical substances. In addition, this refers to a facility that is equipped with explosion-proof and pressure-resistant doors to protect against blast waves, and an airlock room to prevent a drop in air pressure and air contamination inside the shelter.

Around 2002, the Japan Shelter Association, an NPO, noted that Switzerland and Israel boast shelter capacity for 100% of their civilian populations. This was followed by Norway (98%); the US (82%); Russia (78%); the UK (67%); and Singapore (54%). And Japan? Would you believe 0.02%?

In the seven countries surveyed, shelters began to be built both publicly and privately during the Cold War, due to fears of attacks by weapons of mass destruction. In Israel, shelters are regulated in the Civil Defense Law enacted in 1951, and are standardized in detail in its Civil Defense Regulations. Furthermore, in the event of an emergency, Israeli citizens are provided with free gas masks.

In 1963, Switzerland enacted a federal law requiring the establishment of shelters. At the same time, it created a new Federal Civil Defense Agency to manage a network of public shelters. EMP (electromagnetic pulse) countermeasures are currently progressing rapidly in Switzerland, and aging shelters are being renovated, mainly in important government, military, and local government facilities, hospitals, and schools. In the event of an EMP attack that paralyzes information and communications equipment and social infrastructure, there is a high possibility that electronic communication equipment, both wired and wireless, will become unusable, leaving the nation with no means of gathering information.

EMP countermeasures are progressing in countries other than Switzerland, but in Japan, such countermeasures have yet to be taken up by the government or private firms.

Or take South Korea. Subway stations and tunnels are designed to be used as shelters, so they are built more sturdily than Japanese stations. In particular, Seoul has many subway stations that extend deep underground, making it possible for many residents to evacuate. Densely populated areas have underground evacuation facilities in place in case of air raids. Taiwan, in preparation for an emergency, is said to have approximately 105,000 shelters with space to accommodate some 86 million people --- more than three times the island's total population. And many countries other than the ones introduced above have civil defense measures in place.

It's pretty much stating the obvious by this point, but Hamaguchi concludes that Japan's low rate of diffusion for shelters is an anomaly compared to other developed countries.

© Japan Today

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12 Comments
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IF, dog forbid, there is another nuclear war, no amount of shelters would do any good. Todays nuclear weapons are 60/70 times more powerful and destructive than any used before, and these missiles can fly at hyper sonic speeds, so trying to shoot them down would be pointless.

7 ( +10 / -3 )

I don´t want to survive in a world after a nuclear attack.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Japan should work on a "Godzilla Safety Plan", similar to how the US has an "Zombie Apocalypse Survival Plan". Here's the CDC Zombie Plan: https://stacks.cdc.gov/view/cdc/6023

4 ( +4 / -0 )

air raid shelters have been pretty much out of vogue for the past 78 years

They were hardly "in vogue" during WWII so not much has changed. Citizens were not allowed to stray from their homes or neighbourhoods when the bombs were falling all around.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

As the saying goes: I don't know how WWIII will be fought, but I do know how WWIV will: with sticks and stones.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Agree with you @ophelia. I think the 0.02% figure can be attributed to the fact that Japanese realize this too. And of course the devastation of WW2 from firebombings (and nuclear bombings) is still within living memory. Probably Japan's long-term strategy of diplomatic ambiguity might be the best choice, all things considered.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

After being invaded by Stalin's army, Finland learned their lesson. They have shelters seemingly everywhere.

It is a shame that the dictators of the world are still threatening to invade and destroy their neighbors.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Five minutes after a missile is launched to hit the country.

I don't think it is 5 minutes, but definitely under 15 minutes. Regardless, only the people within a few kms of the blast will be instantaneously killed. There's time for others who are farther away to get to shelters and stay there at least 4 days until the fallout has moved or is on the ground.

Either Japan has a plan or they plan to fail. It is too important NOT to have a plan.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Could be important to plan for a non-nuclear war, unfortunately.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Could it not be down to fatalism? What will be will be?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Five minutes after a missile is launched to hit the country.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Just shut down the straight of Taiwan and economic embargo the country. Japan will collapse without a fight. China's almost complete embargo against Japanese agriculture has already dealt a fatal blow to many farmers and agricultural companies in Japan.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

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