Japan declares no-enter area around nuclear plant

14:34, April 21, 2011      

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Japan declared a 20-kilometer area around the radiation-spewing nuclear power plant a "no-enter zone" Thursday, urging residents to abide by the order for their own safety, or possibly face fines or detention.

Under a special nuclear emergency law, people who enter the zone will be subject to fines of up to 100,000 yen ($1,200) and possible detention of up to 30 days.

The order angered residents who fled their homes empty-handed when they were told to evacuate after last month's tsunami and earthquake wrecked the Fukushima Daiichi plant's power and cooling systems.

Officials said the order was meant to limit exposure to radiation leaking from the plant and to prevent theft in the mostly deserted area.

"We beg the understanding of residents. We really want residents not to enter the areas," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said. "Unfortunately, there are still some people in the areas."

The new ruling was not due to any particular change in conditions inside the plant, which appear to have somewhat stabilized. Even under the best-case scenario, however, the plant's operator says it will take at least six months to bring its reactors safely into a cold shutdown.

Almost all the zone's nearly 80,000 residents were evacuated on March 12 and 13, but police had not been able to legally block them from going back. Police Thursday said they had no estimate of the number of people who have returned to the zone, or who still might be living there.

Edano said authorities would arrange brief visits for residents, allowing one person per household to return by bus for a maximum of two hours to collect necessary belongings. Residents would be required to go through radiation screening.

And, no visits will be allowed in a two mile (three kilometer) area closest to the plant, said Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

Source: Agencies
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