N-plant area uninhabitable 'for many years'

JAPAN - Areas within three kilometers of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant likely will be kept off-limits for an extended period - possibly for several decades - because they have been highly contaminated with radioactive substances, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The ban on entry to these areas will remain in place even after the 20-kilometer no-go zone around the plant is lifted when the crisis at the nuclear plant is brought under control, according to government sources.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan will likely hold talks with leaders of local governments in the affected areas and apologize for the prolonged evacuation.

The areas to be kept off-limits will likely include parts of Futabamachi and Okumamachi, both in Fukushima Prefecture. They are within three kilometers of the nuclear plant crippled by March 11 disaster.

The areas could be kept off-limits for "several decades," according to government sources.

In April, the government designated the 20-kilometer no-entry zone around the Fukushima No. 1 power plant. The government had planned to lift the no-entry zone after the reactors at the nuclear plant are brought to a stable condition known as cold shutdown by mid-January.

However, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry estimated that cumulative radiation levels during the year since the accidents at the plant would greatly exceed 20 millisieverts - the benchmark for designating an expanded evacuation zone--at 35 locations mainly in Okumamachi and Futabamachi in the no-entry zone.

The annual cumulative radiation level was calculated to reach 508.1 millisieverts in the Koirino district of Okumamachi, which is three kilometers west-southwest of the nuclear plant, and 393.7 millisieverts in Ottozawa in the town.

The ministry measured radiation levels at 50 locations in the no-entry zone. It estimated annual cumulative radiation levels on the assumption that residents are outside for eight hours a day and inside wooden homes for 16 hours a day.

The government decided that areas very close to the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant will be uninhabitable for an extended period because they are heavily contaminated with radioactive substances and could suffer further serious damage if another major problem occurs at the plant.

Meanwhile, the government is considering using areas around the nuclear plant as temporary storage sites for radioactive waste, including debris and sludge left after treating contaminated water at the plant.

The government will further discuss this plan after examining the ministry's radiation survey, the sources said.

Goshi Hosono, state minister in charge of handling the nuclear crisis, inspected areas within three kilometers of the Fukushima plant Saturday and met with the Okumamachi and Futabamachi mayors. After the meetings, he told reporters Futabamachi residents who lived within three kilometers of the plant would be allowed to make brief home visits Friday, and Okumamachi residents in that area could do so Sept. 1 as scheduled.

In April, Kenichi Matsumoto, an adviser to Kan's Cabinet, quoted Kan as telling him during a meeting, "People might not be able to live there [near the Fukushima plant] for some time. It could be something like 10 or 20 years." However, Matsumoto later told media the remark was actually his own.