About 4,700 residents living within five kilometers of Kyushu Electric Co's Sendai plant in Satsumasendai, Kagoshima Prefecture, were given iodine tablets as a precautionary measure on Sunday.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) approved the upgraded design and safety features of the Sendai plant earlier this month, paving the way for its likely restart sometime in the fall.
The Kagoshima prefectural and Satsumasendai governments distributed the iodine tablets under the new guidelines drawn up by the NRA in 2012. Iodine tablets are used to protect thyroids from radiation.
The NRA guidelines recommend that those living within a 30-km radius of a nuclear crisis of the magnitude of that at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant should be given iodine as quickly as possible. The authority’s research suggests that this should reduce by about 20% radiation that comes into contact with the thyroid gland while breathing.
The recommendation was also made by the World Health Organization decades earlier. In a 1999 guideline, the WHO recommended the stockpiling of stable iodine. However, it added, “For adults over 40, the scientific evidence suggests that stable iodine prophylaxis not be recommended unless doses to the thyroid from inhalation are expected to exceed levels that would threaten thyroid function. This is because the risk of radiation induced thyroid carcinoma in this group is very low while, on the other hand, the risk of side effects increases with age.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government is keen to start bringing the nation's 48 reactors back online as a prolonged shutdown forces Japan to rely on expensive fossil fuel imports for power.
All of Japan's nuclear reactors have been shut for safety overhauls since the 2011 disaster when a nuclear power plant at Fukushima was hit by an earthquake and tsunami.
However, the NRA still has to perform on-site operational checks and get the approval of local communities before the Sendaiu plant can be restarted. The plant was fast-tracked for safety approval by the NRA in March.
The NRA, an independent nuclear regulator set up after the Fukushima disaster, has been vetting restart applications from regional electric utilities for more than a year. Nine companies have applied to restart 19 reactors.
The blackout of nuclear plants, which supplied about one-third of Japan's electricity before Fukushima, has pushed several utilities to post three straight years of losses and has contributed to a record string of 23 months of trade deficits.
Kyushu Electric was forced to seek a 100 billion yen bailout from the state-backed Development Bank of Japan this year to shore up its battered finances.© Japan Today/Thomson Reuters