Some residents evacuated from around Japan’s stricken nuclear power plant may not to be able to return to their homes for “a long time” because of projections that high radiation levels will linger, a top government official said on Monday.
The government is considering providing additional support for the evacuees, including long-term housing rather than prefabricated temporary homes that the government currently is building, Cabinet members said over the weekend.
The comments came after a report from the Japanese Education and Science Ministry projected that radiation accumulated over a year at 22 monitoring sites within about 20km of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant would climb above 100 millisieverts, five times higher than the international safety standard of 20 millisieverts per year.
The plant was damaged by a March 11 earthquake and tsunami that knocked out its vital cooling systems, causing meltdowns in three reactor cores that spewed radiation into the air. About 80,000 people within a 20km radius of the plant have been evacuated, while several thousand more from outside the zone are also relocating.
“We cannot deny a possibility that some of the residents may not be able to return to their homes for a long time in some areas, despite our decontamination efforts,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said at a regular press conference. “We are very sorry.”
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said he might travel north to the affected area this weekend to meet local officials and residents to discuss further steps the government could take.
The government’s plan to bring the troubled plant to a cold, stable shutdown by January had boosted hopes among evacuees that they might be able to return to their homes soon after that. The latest projections seem to indicate that won’t be possible for some.
A site in the town of Okuma, less than 3km southwest of the nuclear complex, was expected to accumulate 508 millisieverts over a year, the highest amount the report showed.