TOKYO, April 20 (UPI) -- The Japanese government may restrict entry into a 12.5-mile radius area around the earthquake-hit Fukushima nuclear plant, an official said Thursday.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said such a step would help limit radiation exposure of residents wishing to return to their homes but it was not clear when the 20-kilometer "no-entry zone" would come into force. It would affect about 70,000 area residents who were evacuated after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
"With people entering (the area), we are having to consider establishing a no-entry zone," Edano told reporters, the Wall Street Journal said. "We understand people wanting to return, having evacuated with just the clothes on their backs."
Edano said the government is making final a plan to temporarily allow evacuated residents to return home while at the same time protecting their health and safety. A no-entry zone declaration would make evacuation legally binding on those who continue to live in the area.
Tokyo Electric Power, the operator of the plant, Tuesday began pumping out thousands of tons of highly radioactive water from the basement of a reactor building into an on-site storage building, a task that may take a few weeks to complete.
Dozens more tasks need to be completed before the utility workers can fully shut down the reactors, stop the radioactive emissions and restore the cooling systems and power supply, which could go on until the end of the year or longer.
The utility has been using U.S.-made robots to check radiation levels inside the reactors including the No. 2 reactor, which was believed to be leaking water into the basement of its turbine plant and utility tunnels.
There are also concerns after the utility said the spent fuel rods in the No. 2 reactor may have been damaged, but government officials have ruled out any total meltdown with the ongoing effort to keep the reactors cool.