FUTABA, Japan – Japanese police sealed off roads leading into an evacuation zone around a radiation-spewing nuclear power plant today to enforce an order meant to keep residents from sneaking back to their homes.
Road blocks with large flashing “Off Limits” signs were set up along major streets leading into the 12-mile zone around the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear reactors, where nearly 80,000 people were hurriedly evacuated after last month’s earthquake and tsunami crippled the plant’s cooling systems.
Before the order went into effect at midnight, residents raced back into their deserted hometowns to grab whatever belongings they could cram into their cars.
“This is our last chance, but we aren’t going to stay long. We are just getting what we need and getting out,” said Kiyoshi Kitajima, an X-ray technician, who dashed to his hospital in Futaba, a town next door to the plant, to collect equipment.
By this morning, the 250 police sent to the area were manning checkpoints and turning people back. They also planned to erect fences on side streets to stop people from entering, said Fukushima police spokesman Yasunori Okazaki.
The order was put in place to limit radiation exposure and theft in the mainly deserted zone, where a growing number of people had been returning to check on the remains of their lives. Under a special nuclear emergency law, people who enter the zone are now subject to fines of up to $1,200 or possible detention for up to 30 days. There had previously been no punishment.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano appealed today for residents of five other areas affected by relatively high levels of radiation outside the main zone to also prepare for evacuation within a month. The government has previously advised people living in those areas to leave, but has not made evacuation mandatory.
“We are very sorry for causing further trouble. I would like residents in those areas to evacuate to other places,” Edano said.
While the levels of radioactivity in the evacuated area have been quite low, the government wants to keep people away out of concerns that long-term exposure can be dangerous.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.