Friday, March 25, 2011

Gov't asks people within 20-30 km of nuke plant to leave voluntarily | Kyodo News

Gov't asks people within 20-30 km of nuke plant to leave voluntarily | Kyodo News: "TOKYO, March 25, Kyodo

The Japanese government on Friday encouraged people living within 20 to 30 kilometers of the troubled nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture to leave voluntarily, citing concerns over access to daily necessities, while maintaining its directive for them to remain indoors and for residents within 20 km of the plant to evacuate.

The government asked heads of affected municipalities to encourage people to voluntarily move farther away, promising to provide its full support in helping them to relocate, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a news conference.

But he stopped short of declaring an evacuation advisory to avoid fanning fears about the increasing danger of radiation leaks, despite criticism from concerned municipalities and local residents of the central government's ''slow response'' over the evacuation instruction.

On a possible new directive from the government, Edano said the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan is looking into the possibility of whether an evacuation directive can be issued on the basis of living conditions rather than safety concerns. Evacuation directives to date have all been linked to concerns about radiation levels.

In a televised message to the public, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said his government is basing its decisions regarding evacuation advisories on the judgment of nuclear experts mainly from the commission.

The Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan, a government panel, also recommended voluntary evacuation the same day for residents 20 to 30 km from the Fukushima Daiichi complex, saying the release of radioactive materials from the plant is expected to continue for some time.

Bearing in mind the shortage of supplies for people stuck indoors within the 30-km radius, the government had been looking into possibly extending its evacuation range but, according to a government source, decided against it because expanding the directive simply because of living conditions would ''cause confusion.''

The government is not planning at the moment to expand the designated exclusion zone, Edano said, noting there has been no fresh information about the levels of radiation since the government issued its directives.

With many affected residents already voluntarily evacuating from around the plant and more wanting to follow, Edano said it is ''preferable'' for people to leave of their own accord, given the difficulties they are encountering in their daily lives.

''The distribution of goods is stalled, and it is rather difficult to maintain their daily lives over a long period of time,'' he said, adding that the government will provide logistical assistance in terms of transportation and facilities to accept people moving more than 30 km from the plant.

The government has also asked municipalities to work closely with the central and prefectural governments to enable immediate evacuation for residents if the government issues an evacuation directive, the chief Cabinet secretary said.

The Defense Ministry said Self-Defense Forces troops have begun working with local and other authorities to identify the people who remain in the 20 to 30 km zone to facilitate smoother evacuation.

After the catastrophic March 11 earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and caused radiation leaks, directives were issued for people living in a 20-km radius of the plant to evacuate and those in the 20- to 30-km range to stay indoors.

Locals staying indoors have had an increasingly hard time securing a range of goods, as a lack of deliveries means supplies are not being replenished. Trucking companies are shunning the government-designated area, apparently for fear of radiation exposure.

Opposition lawmakers pressed the government to impose a more mandatory measure, saying the call for voluntary evacuation would ultimately leave the vulnerable at risk.

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