Japan makes no-go nuclear zone, PM faces more criticism

Thu Apr 21, 2011 10:22am EDT
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By Yoko Kubota and Kazunori Takada

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan said on Thursday it would ban anyone entering a 20-km (12-mile) evacuation zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant north of Tokyo, weeks after the tsunami-wrecked facility began leaking radiation.

An earthquake with a magnitude of 6.3 hit eastern Japan on Thursday evening, the U.S. Geological Survey said, but no tsunami warning was issued and there were no immediate reports of any casualties or damage.

Tens of thousands of people left the zone after the March 11 quake smashed the Fukushima Daiichi power station, operated by Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), but some have gone back to collect belongings as the utility struggles to contain the world's most serious nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan, already facing criticism for his handling of the crisis, was publicly berated over his government's slow response when he visited one evacuation center in the devastated region.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a news conference that from midnight on Thursday, people could only go into the zone under government supervision.

"We will take strict legal measures against those trying to enter the area ... For residents, all I can say is I ask for their understanding so that no legal action will be taken against them."

Anyone breaking the ban can be fined up to 100,000 yen ($1,200) or be detained by police.

TEPCO has said it may take the rest of the year or longer to bring the plant under control.   Continued...