Japan announces no-go zone around crippled N-plant

Tokyo/Fukushima: With no sign of its atomic crisis ending soon, Japan on Thursday said it would ban anyone entering a 20-km evacuation zone around the radiation-leaking Fukushima nuclear plant, as Premier Naoto Kan vowed to make all-out efforts to help those affected rebuild their lives.

The legally-controlled off-limits zone around the plant, which is being enforced for the first time, covers about 27,000 households in nine municipalities, from where the government had already instructed residents to evacuate.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the no-entry zone is aimed at protecting the health and safety of local residents as some of them have been returning home without sufficient radiation safety measures.

From midnight tonight, anyone entering the banned area could be subject to fines, national broadcaster NHK reported.

The government also said it would allow one member of each household to temporarily return to their homes in the off-limits zone. But it has decided not to allow visits for residents living within three kilometres of the nuclear plant.

Prime Minister Kan, who today visited the Fukushima prefecture where the nuclear plant is situated, said his government would compensate residents affected by the atomic crisis triggered by the March 11 magnitude-9 quake and tsunami that left nearly 30,000 people dead or missing in Japan`s northeast.

During their talks, Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato asked Kan and the plant`s operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to bring the situation under control quickly so that the local residents who have been forced to evacuate can return home.

The prefecture`s residents are affected not only by the nuclear crisis but also by rumours that local products are contaminated with radioactive materials.

Kan then visited the national nuclear disaster task force in Fukushima and said the central government has to make all-out efforts so that local residents can rebuild their lives.

He asked officials of the task force to step up their efforts in helping revitalise Fukushima and the rest of Japan in what he said could be a long battle.

TEPCO, meanwhile, said highly toxic water that leaked into the Pacific Ocean from the crisis-hit nuclear plant in early April contained an estimated 5,000 terabecquerels of radioactive substances, 20,000 times the annual allowable limit for the plant, and the leakage amounted to 520 tonnes, Kyodo news agency reported.

It is the first time that the plant`s operator issued data on how much radioactive material had leaked for six days through April 6. But the actual amount of the spill may be larger because outstanding contamination has been detected in the sea from late March.

Radiation levels of over 100 microsieverts per hour were measured at four locations two to three kilometres from the crippled Fukushima plant from late last month, the Science Ministry said.

Japan`s government would also check breast milk samples for radiation.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano announced this, but said radiation leaked from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has had no impact on breastfed infants.

Although radioactive substances were reportedly detected in some samples, the levels were far below safety limits, he said.

He said there is no need for excessive worry, and that the government instructed the Health Ministry to carry out the checks to alleviate concerns among breastfeeding mothers, NHK reported.

Meanwhile, Japan has asked the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to stop other countries` curbing of Japanese imports based on unscientific fears of radiation.

Japan`s Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda made the request at a meeting with visiting OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria in Tokyo, the report said.

Kaieda said European and other countries are restricting imports of farm products from northeastern Japan, and that some are also rejecting Japanese industrial products for fear of radioactive contamination.

Gurria said the OECD will work with the World Trade Organisation to discourage such moves.