Thursday, 15 December 2011

Gov't to designate 'difficult-to-return zones' near crippled Fukushima nuclear plant

The government of Japan is expected to consider designating areas that are exposed to more than 50 millisieverts per year of radiation from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant as zones that are difficult for local residents to return to possibly for the next several decades and buying out tracts of land there.
The government has started to consider dividing the region affected by the Fukushima nuclear crisis into three zones according to levels of radiation they are exposed to. Under the current scheme, the region is divided into "evacuation zones" which fall within a radius of 20 kilometers from the troubled nuclear power station and "planned evacuation zones" that are exposed to more than 20 millisieverts per year of radiation. Under the new scheme, the government will divide the region into three zones; "preparatory zones" that are exposed to less than 20 millisieverts per year of radiation, "restricted residential zones" exposed to radiation of more than 20 millisierverts but less than 50 millisieverts per year, and "difficult-to-return zones" that are exposed to at least 50 millisieverts per year of radiation. In dividing the region into three different zones, the government will discuss details with local municipalities so that it could designate community-based zones in the region because levels of radiation differ from one place to the other in the same municipalities. At the meeting on Dec. 16 of its task force dealing with the nuclear crisis, the government is expected to decide that it has completed "Step 2" of the roadmap to contain the nuclear crisis with the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant being brought under control by achieving a stable state called a ''cold shutdown'' and unveil plans to review the current scheme of evacuation zones by the end of the year.

The "preparatory zones" with radiation exposure of less than 20 millisieverts per year are those areas to which local residents are supposed to make preparations to return to. There are still no residents living there, and therefore, the government will try to decontaminate living spaces and improve infrastructure such as water supply and sewerage systems, roads, schools, hospitals and so on in the zones. The government plans to lift the evacuation order for those areas where local residents can return to their homes in line with requests from local municipalities and progress in the work to improve infrastructure there. That could start sometime after spring of next year at the earliest. "Restricted residential zones" that are apparently difficult for people to live in for the next several years are areas the government plans to try to curb the levels of radiation below 20 millisieverts per year. Areas with high levels of radiation, which could be designated as "difficult-to-return zones," spread northwest from the area near the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Among those areas, there are some places where it is apparently difficult for people to live for the next several decades. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told the plenary session of the House of Councilors on Nov. 25, "There could be areas that are difficult for local residents to return to for a considerable period of time. The government wants to consider medium- and long-term measures responsibly including buying up tracts of land." There is an idea of attaching the word "long-term" to "difficult-to-return zones", but some people within the government say it should not be used out of consideration for the feelings of the affected people. The government is thus still discussing what to do. 

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