Some of the 80,000 residents who lived within the twelve-mile evacuation zone around Japan's "radiation-spewing" nuclear power plant rushed back to the area today before entry was declared illegal. Evacuees, in some cases wearing white protective suits or face masks and rain gear, ventured back to deserted towns near the Fukushima Daiichi plant to pick up their belongings. They drove through quickly with the car windows shut. The Japanese government spent weeks downplaying international calls to expand the evacuation zone as some experts advised. But after residents started reentering the zone (police reports said at least 60 families were still living there), Japan was forced to declare a ban, effective at midnight today.
Each family was allowed to send one member to retrieve belongings for two hours. In one case, a resident who left the zone on March 12 assumed he would be back within days and only brought an ATM card. Anyone entering after midnight could face fines of $1,200 or a 30-day detention. The government says the order wasn't prompted by increased concerns about the plant. In fact, radiation levels have decreased since the first week according to state-run monitoring stations. But despite stabilizing conditions, plant operators say it will take at least six months in order to bring nuclear reactors into a cold shutdown.