Japan Enforces No-Go Zone Around Crippled Nuclear Plant

TOKYO, Japan, April 21, 2011 (ENS) – The Japanese government will enforce a no-entry zone within 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) of the battered Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant from midnight Thursday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano announced today. People entering the area could be fined.

Edano said the exclusion zone is intended to protect the health and safety of local residents, some of whom have been returning home without protective radiation suits and masks.

One of the 150,000 Fukushima evacuees living in shelters wears a borrowed Japan Self-Defense Forces helmet. (Photo courtesy JSDF)

The no-entry zone affects about 27,000 households in nine municipalities. The government had instructed residents within the area to evacuate after the March 11 earthquake and resulting tsunami damaged the nuclear plant.

Loss of cooling funtions at the plant have exposed the nuclear fuel, causing partial meltdowns in several of the plant’s six reactors. Hydrogen gas explosions at three reactors in the week following the earthquake blasted open the containment buildings and spread high-level radiation across a wide area. The accident has been rated a Level 7, the highest level on the United Nations’ incident scale.

Edano said the government will allow one member of each household to temporarily return to their homes in the off-limits zone but will not permit visits for residents living within three kilometers (two miles) of the nuclear plant.

Self-Defense Forces and local municipalities have found that dozens of people are still living in the area, most of them elderly or in need of nursing care who have been unable to evacuate despite government orders.

Elderly Fukushima evacuees at a shelter (Photo courtesy JSDF)

If local governments ask for help, Self-Defense Forces may transport these people out of the area with their vehicles. They are also considering taking people for quick visits to their homes in the off-limit area and then decontaminating them after the trip.

The nuclear plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, says radioactive substances that leaked into the sea over six days from April 1 are estimated at 4,700 terabecquerels, 20,000 times more than the annual allowable limit.

At a news conference today, TEPCO officials said 520 tons of the highly radioactive water is estimated to have leaked into the sea during that six-day period.

This is the first time that TEPCO has issued data on the level of radioactive contamination in the leak. But a greater amount of contamination was detected in the sea from late March, indicating that the scale of the leak may have been even larger.

The seawater radiation level near the plant has been falling and on Tuesday was 1,200 times the allowable limit.

TEPCO placed silt fences as barriers to the spread of radioactive substances into the ocean. (Photo by TEPCO311)

A leak of contaminated water from a pit near the Unit 2 reactor was discovered on April 2 and was stopped four days later with liquid glass.

TEPCO has since set up underwater barriers to prevent the spread of radioactive water in the ocean. The company warns that radioactive water still may be leaking out through unidentified routes that it is attempting to identify.

Work to strengthen the electrical power system was completed on April 19. White vapor continues to be emitted from reactor Units 2, 3 and 4.

In Unit 1 fresh water is being continuously injected into the reactor pressure vessel through the feedwater line using a temporary electric pump with off-site power.

In Units 2 and 3 fresh water is being continuously injected into the reactor pressure vessel through the fire extinguisher line, also using a temporary electric pump with off-site power. In Unit 4 fresh water continues to be sprayed onto the spent fuel pool using a concrete pump truck.

Nitrogen gas is being injected into the Unit 1 containment vessel in to reduce the possibility of a hydrogen explosion. The pressure in the containment vessel has stabilized. The pressure in the reactor pressure vessel is increasing, indicating success of the strategy.

Tokyo Electric on Sunday issued a plan for cooling down the reactors and reducing radiation leaks within six to nine months.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.