Japanese authorities expand evacuation zone, cite no health risks

Japan is expanding a voluntary evacuation zone to a 30-kilometer radius near the troubled Fukushima nuclear power plant. The authorities insist the measure is not because of health risks.

At this point, the Japanese government is encouraging people to leave the territory voluntarily, Kyodo news agency quoted top government spokesperson Yukio Edano as saying.

Edano cited a shortage of basic supplies as the reason for the voluntarily relocation.

”The distribution of goods is stalled, and it is rather difficult to maintain daily living over a long period of time,” he told a news conference. 

Yukio Edano added that the government will provide logistical assistance, transport and facilities for those moving further away from the troubled area.

The government asked municipal services to prepare for a possible immediate evacuation of the citizens still staying in the area, should the necessity arises.

In the first set of measures adopted shortly after the first blasts at the Fukushima facilities, the Japanese government ordered the evacuation of people living within 20 kilometers of the plant. Those living in a 30 kilometer radius were advised to remain indoors. 

However, the latter have recently been experiencing increasing shortages in the supply of basic goods and food, as delivery companies are shunning the area for fear of radiation.

For this reason, and not because of radiation safety concerns, the Japanese government is considering a fresh evacuation directive, Edano stressed.

Japanese officials announced on Friday that a high-level radiation leak from Unit 3 of the plant detected on Thursday may signal that there may have been damage to the reactor’s vessels, pipes or valves, Kyodo news agency reports.

As a result of the leak, two workers have been hospitalized with possible radiation burns. 

”At present, our monitoring data suggest the [Number 3] reactor retains certain containment functions, but there is a good chance that the reactor has been damaged,” Hidehiko Nishiyama from the state Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency told a press conference on Friday.

Following the accident, authorities ordered the plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) to improve radiation management at the facility.

TEPCO is reported to be preparing for injections of fresh water into Units 1,2,3, and 4 of the plant instead of the seawater it used before. Seawater is believed to create a salt crust on the fuel rods, which prevents normal circulation of water, decreasing the cooling effect.

According to AP news agency, radioactive traces have been found in raw milk, seawater and 11 kinds of vegetables grown in the areas surrounding the plant. Some countries are reportedly shutting exports of some goods coming from the troubled area. The Philippines have recently banned the import of chocolates containing milk coming from near the nuclear plant.

Japanese police announced on Friday that the March 11 earthquake and tsunami killed over 10,000 people and has left other 17,400 unaccounted for.

According to AP, thousands of homeless pet cats and dogs are now wandering the rubble-filled streets in northern Japan in search of food and their masters. Some of the animals are trapped in the evacuation area surrounding the Fukushima power plant.

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