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Japan considers wider nuclear evacuation zone
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) April 7, 2011

Police search for bodies in Japanese nuclear zone
Tokyo (AFP) April 7, 2011 - Armed with radiation meters and protective gear, police launched an intensive search Thursday for people missing inside the exclusion zone around Japan's disaster-stricken nuclear power plant. About 250 officers from the Tokyo police force joined 50 local officers who have now been searching for four days within a 10-20 kilometre (six-12 mile) arc around the plant, a Fukushima police spokesman said. More than 2,400 people who lived in the search area are listed among the 15,000 people still unaccounted for nearly four weeks after the earthquake and tsunami struck on March 11.

A further 12,600 people have been confirmed dead in the double catastrophe that ravaged the country's Pacific coast northeast of Tokyo and crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. "The search team is using dosimeters to make sure they are safe," the spokesman said. There were no immediate reports of any bodies being discovered in the search, which was due to last a week. A group of police officers wore white protective clothes with hoods as they moved into an area where only one house still stood amid the rubble of other homes, television footage showed.

They also wore goggles, masks and boots while some donned white helmets as well. In the area, some 18 kilometres from the plant, a number of uprooted trees were scattered over what used to be rows of rice paddies. About 10 diggers and bulldozers were used to clear rubble while searchers used long sticks to sort through debris. A crew from broadcaster NHK said they had stayed inside the area for about 90 minutes and their dosimeters registered little change. Japan's military have so far avoided searching inside the 20 kilometre boundary, as radiation levels were considered too high.

Japan said Thursday it is considering expanding the area covered by a compulsory evacuation order, with no immediate end in sight to the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

As emergency workers began pumping nitrogen into the quake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant to prevent further explosions, the government said it was seeking advice from experts on whether more areas should be evacuated.

Residents within a 20-kilometre (12-mile) radius of the nuclear power plant have already been ordered to leave, while those living up to 10 kms beyond that have only been told to stay indoors.

Evacuation orders are currently issued when residents are at risk of receiving radiation of at least 50 millisieverts, but the government said that arrangement assumed only brief exposure.

"The standard does not take into account the effects of accumulative exposure," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said. "We are discussing what standards to use for accumulative radiation."

Edano said a procedure to inject nitrogen gas, designed to reduce the risk of a hydrogen explosion, was "proceeding smoothly."

In the days after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami crippled the plant, large explosions resulted from hydrogen accumulation near the reactors, damaging the outer buildings housing them.

Radiation from the plant has leaked into the sea and air, contaminating vegetables and raising fears over marine life in a country where the national diet depends heavily on seafood.

earlier related report
S. Korea schools shut over radioactive rain fear
Seoul (AFP) April 7, 2011 - Dozens of South Korean schools cancelled classes Thursday as officials scrambled to quell fears that rain contained radioactive material from Japan's stricken nuclear plant.

More than 130 elementary schools and kindergartens in Gyeonggi province surrounding the capital Seoul cancelled or cut classes after rain began falling on orders from the provincial education office.

An office spokesman called it part of "preemptive measures for the safety of students".

The office had told schools Wednesday to cancel or shorten classes due to "growing anxiety among students and parents over conflicting claims on the safety of radiation exposure".

Schools in remote areas, where students have a long walk to class, were particularly encouraged to cancel activities. At schools which stayed open, teachers were advised to suspend outdoor activities.

Complaints from parents mounted on the website of Seoul city's education office, which refused to cancel classes and called for a calm response to the fears.

"Please order class cancellation. I'm worried to death about my kid and can't sleep," said one posting.

Education authorities in North Chungcheong province south of Gyeonggi postponed football, baseball and other sporting events.

Concern grew in the nation closest to Japan after the weather agency said Monday that radioactive material from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant may be carried to the peninsula by southeasterly winds.

The amount of radioactive material contained in the rainfall is too tiny to pose any health threat, the prime minister's office said Thursday, calling for education offices to refrain from "making parents nervous".


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