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.


    1. You mean:  “Agency approves reconstruction of 1960’s era pressurized water reactor rotting for decades in Alabama.”

      1. Yeah. But I guess it’s all okay because like the article says, “TVA said it is taking into account the ‘lessons learned’ from the Japan nuclear disaster.”

        Bloody hell.

  1. Instead of declaring any area off-limits, it would be better to simply provide necessary information about background radiation and isotopes found in soil/plant samples – and leave the decision to enter and/or live in the area to the people themselves.

    If the concern about citizens was so great as to mandate the evacuation of any area where a significant health impact can be expected, then there is a very good argument to made, to evacuate US states like Rhode Island, Delaware, Louisiana or Mississippi and compensate the affected people. Those states have significantly elevated cancer rates – to the tune of having one hundred thousand extra cases of cancer among every million people in those states than should be expected based on the US average.

    1. The soil contamination isotopes in Bq/kg are here http://www.mext.go.jp/component/english/__icsFiles/afieldfile/2011/08/07/1306621_080710d.pdf
      The environment radiation levels are here http://www.mext.go.jp/component/english/__icsFiles/afieldfile/2011/08/06/1305391_080618.pdf
      The thing is most people wouldn’t know the meaning of those numbers and would still need to rely on media or officials to tell them good/bad and more importantly they want some one they can blame later if the consequences of that risk they undertook are not to their liking.

  2. I’m a little surprised they’re discussing renting the land out as a way to compensate the people they’re forcibly evicting.  I know it’s probably chump change for the government, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of this sort of compensation before.  Maybe a boingboinger with a little more free time than me can point me to places this has been done before, and how well it worked out.

    It’s think kind of a good idea.  Sure the citizens don’t get to say no, but as long as the rate is fair it’s probably going to give them at least a small bit of income with which to find their feet again.

  3. Anybody been to Nagasaki or Hiroshima’s ground zero? Within only a short time those areas were liveable and in fact bustling.  Why should we think a radioactive incident that is orders of magnitude less in severity than those two events would require such a response?

    1. The atomic bombs exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki were:
      1. airbursted at about 500 meters over the ground, which meant there was far less “dirt” that was irradiated, but also had the “benefit” of expanding the blast radius (as designed).  This meant less long-term fallout
      2. The atomic bombs were Plutonium239 and Uranium235.  Both are very radioactive, but a fair amount of the fuel is destroyed, and the remainder would have risen into the stratosphere with the fireball.  Thus, a lot of people were killed through alpha and gamma radiation from the blast, but not that much from radioactive dust lying around.

      Fukushima is different: it’s a non-explosive leaky fountain, spewing Cesium up into the air and into the groundwater.  The half-life is still a while (dozens of years).

      1. It is also rather likely that the prevailing level of risk-aversion toward the end of the process of losing a very, very, ugly total war was probably a bit lower than the prevailing level today…

  4. Anyone else think this is a remarkably small exclusion zone and short time-period. I mean, given the media-driven hysteria and all…. I was kind-of expecting a 100km radius uninhabitable for 500,000 years or some-such. Nuclear power again provides some evidence that “fears” are generally overblown. Not sayin’ the meltdown was a good thing. Just saying we need to keep some perspective of risk vs reward.

    1. Indeed it is small. 3km is smaller than some shopping malls. It’s a two minute drive. It’s the size of my inlaws farm and the distance I used to walk for high school. As for the duration it will probably end up being a lot shorter than the worst case guesses based on Chernobyl since the cesium release so far is a fraction of what was and is in the Ukraine.

    2. Have a nice cool drink of some Fukushima run-off, then tell me about risk vs. reward.  3km seems like plenty if it includes your house.

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