Japan Makes It Illegal to Enter Evacuation Zone Around Nuclear Plant

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MINAMISOMA, JAPAN - APRIL 15: Police officers wearing radiation protective gears search bodies of the tsunami victims on April 15, 2011 in Minamisoma, Fukushima, Japan. Japanese government ordered all the residents to evacuate from 20km radius from the plant. Japan raised the nuclear accident severity level to 7, the highest level on the International Nuclear Event Scale and the same level as the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. The Japanese government has ordered Tepco, the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi plant damaged by March 11 earthquake and tsunami, to compensate the 40,000 plus families living within the 30km radius of the plant approximately 1 million yen, which equates to 7,331GBP or 12,000USD per household starting on 28 April 2011. (Photo by Toshifumi Taniuchi/Getty Images) Photo: Air Rabbit/2011 Air Rabbit

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.

Japan bans entry into Fukushima evacuation zone [BBC]
Japan Declares No-Go Zone Around Nuclear Plant [AP via ABC News]
Japan Prohibits Access to Nuclear Evacuation Zone [NYT]