The government started discussions on establishing "long-term no-return zones" in areas with high radiation levels near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is also considering extending assistance for a "two-stage return," whereby new towns are created in areas of low radiation levels to prepare for a future return of evacuees.
Radiation levels will soon be measured in the no-entry zone within a 20-kilometer radius of the nuclear plant. Areas that are designated long-term no-return zones will be announced when a state of cold shutdown is achieved at the plant, which the government plans by the end of the year.
The government has not decided on the length of the ban on entry to these zones, but expects it will continue for a long time.
The central and local governments may lease out or buy up land from residents of the zones and provide them with public-run "reconstruction housing."
A science ministry survey in mid-October found that annual human exposure to radiation exceeded the evacuation threshold of 20 millisieverts at 37 of 50 measurement locations in the no-entry zone. Annual exposure exceeded 100 millisieverts at 15 locations, where more than 10 years will be needed for the figure to fall below 20 millisieverts.
The government plans to start model projects in the no-entry zone to verify how far decontamination measures can lower radiation levels. The results will be used to calculate how many years it will take before residents can return and to designate areas where a return will remain difficult in the longer term.
The designation will also include areas where everyday life is expected to remain difficult, even if the radiation levels are low, because of scant prospects for a recovery in infrastructure.
The town of Okuma in Fukushima Prefecture, in which part of the Fukushima No. 1 plant lies, has already incorporated a "two-stage return" in its draft reconstruction design.
According to the plan, a "new town" with a concentration of public facilities will be created in an area of low radiation levels to prepare for the eventual return of all evacuees. The central government plans to extend assistance to similar initiatives.
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