Today the Federal Council held an emergency meeting on the tragic events which have struck Japan, in order to take stock of current developments in the country and assess their possible consequences for Switzerland.
First and foremost, the Federal Council wishes to stress its great concern for the victims of the catastrophe which Japan is experiencing. It has expressed its condolences to the country and would like to once again affirm here its solidarity with the Japanese people and authorities (as well as all those people affected by this catastrophe).
Today the Federal Council has assessed the events which are unfolding. The news coming out of Japan demonstrates that the situation remains difficult, despite the efforts of the authorities to control the situation in the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Mr Wanner, director of the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI), will be giving you more detailed information later today. The Federal Council is concerned by the turn that events have taken in Japan. Information regarding the problems both in the reactors which were operating during the tsunami and those which were in an idle state at the time show that the situation could still escalate.
With this in mind, the Federal Council would like to envisage all the possible scenarios and in particular their possible impact on Switzerland, and to make sure that all possible measures are in place so that the necessary decisions can be taken, should the need arise. Today we can confirm that all the relevant supervisory bodies are involved and are closely following the events unfolding in Japan, and will be able to take action directly if and when required.
On the one hand, the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI), which is responsible for the safety of our nuclear installations in conjunction with international inspectorates, is updating the Federal Council regularly on the succession of events unfolding at the Japanese nuclear power station. The ENSI provides a daily update on how the situation is developing.
At the same time, the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) is following events and posting regular information bulletins on its website.
Tomorrow there will be a meeting of the ABCN military staff committee, which is the competent body in events in which there is an increase in levels of radioactivity. The committee has the authority to call up the ABCN military staff, which will take stock of the situation. The military staff is called upon if Switzerland is faced with an increase in radioactivity levels or if there is a possibility that this may be the case.
Measures to suspend procedures
The Federal Council fully supports the precautionary measure taken by DETEC to suspend current procedures concerning requests for the general approval of replacement nuclear power stations. The Federal Council hopes to learn from what has happened in Japan. However, we need to wait to discover all the details of the current events before having such a discussion.
The Federal Council would also like to reassure the people of Switzerland. At the moment, there are no health risks for the Swiss population. No increase in radioactivity has been recorded in Switzerland and there is no need to take precautionary measures. The Federal Office of Public Health has advised that it is unnecessary for individuals to stock up on iodine tablets. We have sufficient stocks here in Switzerland, which can be distributed to the population should an emergency situation arise.
Swiss in Japan
1,890 Swiss citizens are registered as living in Japan. 1,592 of these have been successfully contacted. Due to the destroyed infrastructure and interrupted power lines, communication is proving very difficult. All 105 Swiss registered in the north eastern region of Japan which was badly hit by the tsunami have been contacted. We have received no information to suggest that there are any Swiss people among the victims.
The FDFA advises against travel to the North East of Japan and the prefectures of Nagano and Niigata. Furthermore, the FDFA advises against tourist travel and other non-essential travel to the rest of Japan. The FDFA has the following advice for Swiss nationals in Japan: It is currently impossible to predict how the situation in the damaged nuclear plants will develop and there may be further aftershocks. The FDFA therefore advises all Swiss people who are currently in the crisis-struck areas of north eastern Japan and in and around Tokyo/Yokohama and whose presence is not absolutely essential to leave these areas if possible, and providing they can travel safely.
Swiss Embassy in Tokyo
The Swiss embassy in Tokyo has been operating 24 hours a day since the beginning of the crisis and its staff has received additional support from members of the crisis expert pool in order to help Swiss nationals in Japan in this difficult situation. The embassy continues to try to establish contact with all Swiss people in Japan. The embassy is advising the Swiss community regularly by e-mail, telephone and updates on the embassy website on travel, how to act and how the situation is developing. Swiss nationals who find themselves in difficulties or require special help can apply to the Swiss embassy in Tokyo at any time. A 24-hour emergency number was set up at the beginning of the catastrophe to provide Swiss nationals in Japan and their relatives elsewhere with information. The number is +41 (0)800 24-7-365. The embassy will help you as best it can. Since Wednesday iodine tablets have been distributed to Swiss nationals in the country.
Leaving the country
Today the embassy once again sent an e-mail to the Swiss nationals in the region of Tokyo/Yokahama drawing their attention to the FDFA's travel advice. Airlines still have enough capacity, meaning that Swiss nationals wishing to leave the country can do so. Other European countries are also currently leaving their citizens to make their own travel arrangements. The FDFA is observing the situation continuously and is in close contact with the authorities. Contingency plans are being drawn up for all possible scenarios.
At the same time, the FDFA and the Swiss embassy are in contact with the embassies of other countries in order to coordinate travel arrangements for their citizens. The FDFA is ready to organise charter flights at short notice to repatriate Swiss nationals should there not be sufficient commercial flights. The Kobe office of the Swiss embassy has already received extra staff to aid Swiss nationals leaving the country from Osaka.
Humanitarian aid - Teams on the ground
The federal search and humanitarian assessment team deployed in the disaster area is now on its way home. But this does not mean that the Swiss are no longer present to help deal with the catastrophe in the North East of Japan. Experts in humanitarian aid are still working in Tokyo and Osaka and helping the embassy in its efforts to serve Swiss nationals in Japan.
A search and assessment team made up of 23 experts and nine rescue dogs was sent to the North East of Japan last Saturday at an official request for help from the Japanese government. They were searching for victims of the earthquake and tsunami with the help of the rescue dogs and detector equipment. They were successful in three cases. The team also took hourly radiation measurements for their own safety.
It is now unrealistic to hope that people can still be found alive in the area hit by the tsunami.
Five days after the catastrophe occurred, the chances of finding survivors drops considerably. Now that it has also started snowing, making the search even harder, it was decided to call the humanitarian search team back to Switzerland. They are expected to return on Friday.
The people and government of Japan greatly appreciate the work of the Swiss experts and recognise it as an act of solidarity in an extremely difficult situation.
Although the search team is returning, Swiss aid workers remain in Japan. Three experts in the team are not coming home, but are flying to Tokyo to strengthen the presence at the Swiss embassy. Their main task will be to help repatriate Swiss nationals. Nine experts and three other professionals from the crisis expert pool are already there. Two further experts will arrive in Japan today to help at the Swiss embassy Osaka office.
The Federal Council wants to keep the population informed about how the situation develops. Regular briefings will be held by the relevant bodies, as has been the case over the past few days. You will receive regular updates.
As from today there is a website where useful information are published. Here you will also find information about telephone helplines.
Address for enquiries:
Press officer of the Swiss Federal Council
+41 (0)31 322 37 03