The Japanese government has relaxed restrictions imposed on some of the towns impacted by last years Fukushima nuclear disaster. The towns of Kawauchi and Tamura were largely reopened to residents on April 1st, and the town of Minamisoma will begin to allow residents to return beginning mid-April. The areas, which were home to around 16,000 residents, sit within 20 kilometers of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Under the new rules, residents will be permitted to return to “green” zones, but not stay overnight. Residents had previously been unable to reenter without police approval and protective clothing. As the government allows reentry into these first few towns, it remains uncertain whether these areas are safe enough to live in again; and if so, how many citizens will choose to go home amidst the skepticism.
The Guardian reports that Japanese authorities have reclassified the areas within a 20km radius of the Fukushima Daiichi plant into three categories based on detected radiation levels. Eight towns have the same “low” radiation levels reported in the three areas included in the recent announcement, but plans as to when and if those areas will be open to reentry have not yet been made public.
World Nuclear News reports that the newly opened “green” zones have a radiation level lower than 20 millisieverts per year, and that the Government aims to decontaminate all areas to this level, adding that with “areas frequented by children the aim is for this to be less than 1 millisievert per year.” This 20 millisievert benchmark may not be enough to assuage fears that the areas will remain unsafe for the population at large to return to. As we previously reported, the generally accepted rule is that humans should only be exposed to one millisievert of radiation a year.
The motivations for opening up the areas may also be questionable. While it may be undeniably important for evacuated residents to revisit their homes when safe, WNN stated that “Japan’s Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry (METI) said that local governments have been strongly demanding early returns to begin the restoration of the infrastructure that will support the return to normality.”
The announcement comes days after tests from within Reactor No. 2 of Fukushima Daiichi showed that the radiation levels within the reactors core remain at ten times the fatal dose with very little water remaining to cool it. The reactor will require specialized equipment and decades of work to fully shut down, with levels at two other reactors still unknown.