Japan universities roped in monitor radiation during nuclear emergencies

TOKYO (THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - An organisation to closely monitor the dispersion of radioactive materials is being set up by universities across Japan that possess radiation facilities.

The move is to prepare for possible accidents at nuclear power plants and terrorist attacks involving nuclear materials.

In case of emergency, experts at the universities will collect data for purposes such as the evacuation of residents and provision of medical treatment to people exposed to radioactive materials.

The universities will also be in charge of explaining the situation to residents.

Ten universities, including Nagasaki University and the University of Tokyo, have decided to join the project and will seek more universities to join. They aim to set up the organisation with years.

In the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co Holdings' Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, municipalities and other offices measured radioactivity, but they suffered from a shortage of equipment and staff due to the Great East Japan Earthquake.

There was also confusion among residents, as little information was provided to them.

The latest project is intended to address such confusion and concerns by complementing the existing monitoring networks and disseminating accurate information from experts.

The new organisation will comprise 10 universities with experiment facilities to handle radioactive materials. Another 49 universities are considering joining the project.

Since fiscal 2016, the Secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority has also provided support in such areas as teaching students how to measure radioactive materials.

In the planned scheme, if an accident occurs, teaching staff and officials with certificates to handle radiation - mainly from the closest university - will examine the dispersion of radioactive materials near the accident site. Students trained in measuring methods will help gauge the level of radioactive materials near their homes.

Other universities will also look into how radioactive materials are dispersed in their respective locations and provide the data to the government. A database will be created to manage such information in a unified manner.

Professor Naoki Matsuda at Nagasaki University, who heads the Japanese Society of Radiation Safety Management, is leading the efforts to create the organisation.

"We want to create a system to remove residents' concerns in cases of emergency by making use of experts and facilities across the country," said Prof Matsuda, an expert on radiation protection.