Tokyo, Apr 12: Japan is preparing to urge more residents around the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant to evacuate, because of concerns over long-term exposure to radiation, The New York Times reported.
The authorities have already ordered people living within a 12-mile radius of the plant to evacuate, and recommended that people remain indoors or avoid an area within a radius of about 19 miles.
The government's decision to expand the zone came in response to radiation readings that would be worrisome over months in certain communities beyond those areas, underscoring how difficult it has been to predict the ways radiation spreads from the damaged plant.
Unlike the previous definitions of the areas to be evacuated, this time the government designated specific communities that should be evacuated, instead of a radius expressed in miles.
The radiation has not spread evenly from the reactors, but instead has been directed to some areas and not others by weather patterns and the terrain. Iitate, one of the communities told on Monday to prepare for evacuation, lies well beyond the 19-mile radius, but the winds over the last month have tended to blow northwest from the Fukushima plant toward Iitate, which may explain why high readings were detected there.
Officials are concerned that people in these communities are being exposed to radiation equivalent to at least 20 millisieverts a year, he said, which could be harmful to human health over the long term.
In addition to Iitate, evacuation orders will come within a month for Katsurao, Namie and parts of Minamisoma and Kawamata, said Yukio Edano, the chief cabinet secretary.
People in five other areas may also be told to evacuate if the conditions at the Fukushima Daiichi plant grow worse, Mr. Edano said. Those areas are Hirono, Naraha, Kawauchi, Tamura and other sections of Minamisoma.
“This measure is not an order for you to evacuate or take actions immediately,” he said. “We arrived at this decision by taking into account the risks of remaining in the area in the long term.”
He appealed for calm and said that the chance of a large-scale radiation leak from the Fukushima Daiichi plant had, in fact, decreased.
Edano also said that pregnant women, children and hospital patients should stay out of the area within 19 miles of the reactors and that schools in that zone would remain closed.
Until now, the Japanese government had refused to expand the evacuation zone, despite urging from the International Atomic Energy Agency. The United States and Australia have advised their citizens to stay at least 50 miles away from the plant.
The international agency, which is based in Vienna, said Sunday that its team measured radiation on Saturday of 0.4 to 3.7 microsieverts per hour at distances of 20 to 40 miles from the damaged plant — well outside the initial evacuation zone.
At that rate of accumulation, it would take 225 days to 5.7 years to reach the Japanese government's threshold level for evacuations: radiation accumulating at a rate of at least 20 millisieverts per year.
In other words, only the areas with the highest readings would qualify for the new evacuation ordered by the government.