TOKYO, April 7 (UPI) -- Police searched Thursday for people missing in an evacuation zone surrounding an earthquake-crippled nuclear plant in northeastern Japan, officials said.
Mikio Murakoshi, a spokesman for the Fukushima Prefecture police, said police officers from Tokyo and Fukushima Prefecture, wearing protective suits, searched for bodies in the 12-mile evacuation zone encircling the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, The New York Times reported.
Inside the nuclear facility, workers were injecting nitrogen into the No. 1 reactor containment vessel to try to reduce the risk of an explosion from hydrogen gas that may be in the building. Officials stressed the action was precautionary, not because an explosion was considered imminent.
Japanese and U.S. soldiers last weekend conducted a search for the missing, but avoided the evacuation zone because of the radiation risk. Murakoshi said radiation levels in the zone have dropped, making a search in the area possible.
Police say about 12,600 people died from the March 11 9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami. More than 14,700 are listed as missing, including about 4,200 in the zone around the Fukushima plant.
The Japanese government said it was considering possibly expanding the evacuation zone around the plant. Government spokesman Yukio Edano said Wednesday the move was being considered because some people just outside the evacuation zone were accumulating radiation exposure over time.
"There are areas where the accumulated radiation level is rising," Edano said during a briefing.
The expanse of the zone would depend on what level of accumulated radiation is determined to be of concern, he said.
"Specialists in the field are currently considering the issue," he said.