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Japan eases evacuation advisory for zones near nuclear plant
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Sept 30, 2011

Japan on Friday lifted evacuation advisories for five areas near the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant as it looks to convince tens of thousands of residents that it is safe to return home.

Japan continues to maintain a 20-kilometre (12-mile) no-go zone around the facility at the centre of the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl, after it was hit by the March tsunami and lost reactor cooling functions.

On Friday it said it would lift five "evacuation preparation" zones between 20 and 30 kilometres from the plant, where residents were not forced to evacuate but were told to be ready to do so in the event of further setbacks at the crippled plant.

Tokyo aims to convince roughly 28,500 residents out of a population of 58,500 who have left the areas that it is safe to return due to acceptable radiation levels and a more stable situation at the nuclear plant.

However, many of those who fled told public broadcaster NHK that they were reluctant to return.

"The government will work as one and take full action in eliminating as soon as possible the fears of those evacuated, so that they can return home," said Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who heads the taskforce that made the decision.

The move to lift the order will apply to some outer areas of restricted zones in Hirono town, Naraha town, Kawauchi village, Tamura city and Minamisoma city.

Tens of thousands of people have moved to shelters from areas in and beyond the 20-kilometre no-go zone around the plant, including some areas in a wider 30-kilometre radius where people were first told to stay indoors and later urged to leave.

The process of fully restoring the areas around the crippled Fukushima plant is expected to take decades.

The task of restoring towns and villages even in lightly contaminated zones is complicated, with high costs and logistical issues of where to store soil contaminated with radioactive caesium after it is removed.

"The government has set aside a very large budget of 1.15 trillion yen ($15 billion) and it will use it to thoroughly carry on the work to decontaminate the areas," environment minister Goshi Hosono told reporters.

A towering tsunami released by the March 11 earthquake crippled the plant's cooling systems and triggered explosions and reactor meltdowns, leading to the release of radiation into the environment and orders to evacuate.

Many activists and scientists have called for a wider evacuation zone due to concerns that it does not account for unpredictable radiation fallout patterns on the ground after the plant spewed radiation into the environment, including pockets more than 100 kilometres (62 miles) away.

Some areas in the 20 kilometre zone could be uninhabitable for decades, with radiation equivalent to more than 500 millisieverts (mSv) per year, compared to a legal limit that was raised from 1.0 to 20 mSv per year after the accident.

However, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) hopes to bring the Fukushima facility into stable "cold shutdown" by January, and said this week that had made progress in cooling and stabilising the leaking reactors.

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Reactor cooldown at Japan's Fukushima plant
Tokyo (AFP) Sept 29, 2011
The operators of Japan's crippled Fukushima power plant said Wednesday that the temperature of reactor number two had dropped below 100 degrees Celsius as the site slowly recovers from the March 11 tsunami. Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) said the heat of the reactor fell to 99.4, following that of reactors one and three which dipped below 100 C (212 degrees Fahrenheit) a few weeks ago. ... read more

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