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Japan: Active Volcanoes Special Measures Act Amended

(Sept. 11, 2015) In September 2014, Mt. Ontake, located in central Japan, erupted and resulted in the loss of 57 lives. (Mount Ontake Volcanic Eruption, NHK World (Oct. 27, 2014).) Experts called for improved measures for managing government reactions to eruptions. (Id.) In response, the government discussed enhanced countermeasures. (Disaster Management in Japan, Cabinet Office website, at 29 (2015).) By a recent amendment to the Act on Special Measures Concerning Active Volcanoes, the new response system was established. (Act to Amend Act on Special Measures Concerning Active Volcanoes, Act No. 52 of 2015 (amending Act No. 61, 1973), text of the legislation that was passed without change available at House of Representatives website (in Japanese).)

Under the amended Act, the government is obligated to establish a basic national policy on promotion of comprehensive measures dealing with active volcanos. (Id. arts. 1 & 2.) Also, the government is obligated to review and renew a warning and evacuation system. The Prime Minister may designate areas where volcanic eruptions may pose a danger to residents’ and climbers’ health and lives and where there is a need for a monitoring and systematic evacuation system in the volcanic disaster monitoring zone. (Id. arts. 1 & 3.)

Prefectures and municipal governments must form a committee to discuss monitoring and evacuation systems on an ongoing basis. The committee must include officials from local meteorological observatories, regional development bureaus, the Ground Self-Defense Force and the prefectural police, municipal fire chiefs, and experts on volcanoes. (Id. art. 4.) Prefectural and municipal disaster management councils within the monitoring zone must collect volcanic activity information and decide on a method of issuing warnings, upon consultation with the committee. (Id. arts. 5 & 6.) Heads of municipal governments must take measures to keep the public within the monitoring zone informed about volcanic activity and emergency evacuation routes. (Id. art. 7.)

The system for the distribution of information on potential threats from active volcanoes has been clarified and enhanced. The head of the Japan Meteorological Agency must notify prefectural governors of volcanic activity that may amount to eruptions that threaten residents in their areas. The governors must notify relevant organizations and municipal governments of the information and request that they make preparations. Heads of such notified municipal governments must convey the information to relevant organizations, residents, and climbers near the volcano. (Id. art. 12.)