Japan: Areas around Fukushima, contaminated with nuclear fallout, may be off-limits "for several decades"

Japan's Daily Yomiuri reports that land within a 3km (about 1.8 miles) of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant "likely will be kept off-limits for an extended period--possibly for several decades" because contamination levels of radioactive substances in this zone are so high. A related report in the New York Times, drawing from several Japanese news sources, says a government statement to this effect is expected soon—and that affected communities are within 12 miles (19km) of the plant.

The formal announcement, expected from the government in coming days, would be the first official recognition that the March accident could force the long-term depopulation of communities near the plant, an eventuality that scientists and some officials have been warning about for months. Lawmakers said over the weekend — and major newspapers reported Monday — that Prime Minister Naoto Kan was planning to visit Fukushima Prefecture, where the plant is, as early as Saturday to break the news directly to residents. The affected communities are all within 12 miles of the plant, an area that was evacuated immediately after the accident.

The government is expected to tell many of these residents that they will not be permitted to return to their homes for an indefinite period. It will also begin drawing up plans for compensating them by, among other things, renting their now uninhabitable land. While it is unclear if the government would specify how long these living restrictions would remain in place, news reports indicated it could be decades. That has been the case for areas around the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine after its 1986 accident.

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