The Japanese government’s new "no-go" zone went into effect midnight Thursday, local time, banning residents from remaining within a 12.4-mile (20-kilometer) radius of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
The prohibition aims to enhance control of residents near the plant as the nuclear crisis continues in the northeast. Residents who fail to abide by the order could face fines or detention.
Even though almost all of the 80,000 residents in the zone were already evacuated a day after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami damaged the plant’s power and cooling systems, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said this order would ensure that everyone actually left and would prevent anyone from going back into the zone for any reason.
“We beg the understanding of residents,” Edano said at a press conference. “We really want residents not to enter the areas. Unfortunately, there are still some people in the area.”
Under a special nuclear emergency law, people who enter the zone on their own will now be subject to fines of up to 100,000 yen (US$1,222) and face possible detention of up to 30 days.
Nevertheless, Edano said authorities would arrange brief visits for residents, allowing one person per household to return by specially arranged bus for at most two hours to retrieve personal belongings. They will be provided with necessary protective gear and will be screened for radiation upon leaving the zone.
Those living in within 1.9 miles of the plant absolutely cannot go back.
“We realize that those who left the zone with only the clothes on their backs have the strong desire to re-enter the area, and that there are certain instances in which it would serve the public good to allow temporary re-entry,” Edano said.
The no-entry regulation does not apply to emergency response workers in the area.
The no-go zone transpired following a 35-minute meeting between Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato at Fukushima’s prefectural office on Thursday.
Officials said the new decision was not driven by any particular change in conditions at the plant. However, one of the two cooling systems is currently unusable and some of the emergency diesel generators have yet to be repaired among other issues.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard arrived in Tokyo late Wednesday for a four-day visit in Japan. After spending her first full day there on Thursday, she said Australia will “do anything it can” to help Japan through this difficult period.
Japan and Australia agreed to boost bilateral cooperation in energy generation and disaster preparedness and responses. Kan and Gillard, who is the first foreign leader to make an official working visit to Japan after its disasters, also agreed to try to conclude a bilateral free trade agreement and work together toward strengthening international safety standards for nuclear power generation.
As of 6 p.m. on Thursday, over 27,000 people are counted as either dead or missing in Japan since the disasters. No deaths have been directly linked to the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.