The following article from the Yomiuri won’t come as too much surprise to regular JSW readers: the SDF wants to improve its ability to handle Fukushima Dai-Ichi style nuclear accidents through both its equipment and training with a view to a possible terrorist incident, alongside the disaster-related/human error-type incidents that we’re seeing now.

USMC CBIRF on left, SDF in Tyvek suits on right

USMC CBIRF on left, SDF in Tyvek suits on right (Source: Asagumo)

In an exclusive interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun on Tuesday, Gen. Ryoichi Oriki, chief of staff of the SDF Joint Staff, expressed his intention to review the SDF’s current nuclear disaster response guidelines, which comes after reflection upon operations conducted during the ongoing Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant crisis.

The SDF plans to better incorporate into its guidelines operations SDF personnel conducted under highly radioactive conditions. This is expected to include improving response capabilities by beefing up equipment, enhancing cooperation with local governments and U.S. forces, and holding exercises.

“It’s necessary to incorporate additional possible scenarios into the guidelines and conduct exercises accordingly,” Oriki said.

During the ongoing Fukushima nuclear crisis, SDF personnel have engaged in operations including evacuating residents near the nuclear plant; spraying and injecting water into nuclear reactors to cool them down; measuring radiation levels at the plant; measuring temperatures inside reactor buildings; and decontaminating procedures.

Although the current SDF nuclear disaster response plan covers measuring radiation dosage levels and providing evacuation support, it does not incorporate water-spraying operations and measuring temperatures inside nuclear facilities. Consequently, SDF personnel have engaged in operations not defined under the current SDF plan.

Other lessons to be learned from the Fukushima nuclear crisis include helping patients and medical staff evacuate effectively from hospitals within evacuation zones.

Taking into account the fact that the SDF and the U.S. Chemical Biological Incident Response Force held joint exercises in the nation after the nuclear accident, Oriki said: “It’s important that specialists [from both nations] collaborate.”

Oriki indicated that SDF personnel may get the chance to learn about the radiological incident response capabilities of the U.S. special forces.

The SDF may also consider introducing drones and robots into its nuclear accident response plan, with a range of potential situations taken into account such as biological or chemical weapon attacks and handling radioactive materials. “We need to adopt a systematic approach to be better equipped,” Oriki said.

The involvement of the USMC CBIRF team in Fukushima was given a lot of media attention, but it seems their role was limited to training SDF troops in the Tokyo area for dispatch to Fukushima, and supplying equipment for use in the unfolding accident. According to this month’s Strike and Tactical (a Japanese military/arms magazine), the 147 team held joint training exercises at Yokota Airbase from April 2nd to April 4th. On April 9th, they held a media open day to demonstrate the kinds of equipment they have and procedures to use, and while the SDF have some interesting and innovative (largely foreign-made) disaster relief equipment, the CBIRF’s are made specifically for kind of event occurring in Fukushima, including the Andros F-6Aa and Talon rover, impressively field decontamination tents, alongside personal dosimeters and other necessities.

Compare this to the SDF’s deployment to Fukushima where most of the initial dosimeters were borrowed from Tokyo Electric (and given back for testing, which took a long time to identify the extent of their exposure), Type-74 tanks and Type-96 armored personnel carriers for their NBC environmental protection abilities (the radiation exposure is  damaging the service-life of these vehicles), and rather thin-looking DuPont Tyvek Softwear disposable overalls. For the cooling operations, they deployed airbase apron fire vehicles – they have an incredible water pumping ability through a water-cannon, making them ideal with some modifications. Their operation looks, and essentially is, thrown together with what can be found, borrowed or purchased on short order.

The SDF needs robust training and equipment so that it can perform its search and rescue duties under great stress and hazardous conditions in the event of a repeat of the current crisis. Boosting the SDF’s nuclear incident response capabilities will allow Japan to institutionalize and deploy the experience it has gained in the current disaster, and perhaps even help other nations that find themselves dealing with a catastrophic failure in the same way in which the US lent its training and experience to Japan in its time of need.

[H/T: @Shogannai]

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch