Japan: Fukushima areas may be declared uninhabitable for decades

The Japanese government may declare areas near the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant uninhabitable for more than 10 years - perhaps decades - because of radiation levels that are more than 500 times safety limits, according to newspaper reports.

Japanese newspaper The Daily Yomiuri reports government sources have said it could be "several decades" before the area is considered safe to enter, ABC reports.

Authorities say they plan to bring the stricken nuclear plant to a state of cold shutdown early next year after the first reports showed alarmingly high levels of radiation around the stricken nuclear plant.

The radiation readings were taken in 50 locations within a 12-mile radius of the Fukushima nuclear plant.

Radiation readings measuring up to 508.1 millisieverts per year were detected in Okuma town, 1.8 miles from the plant, compared with the internationally recommended limit of 1 millisievert a year, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, said on its website, Bloomberg reports.

Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima plant was hit by a magnitude-9 earthquake on March 11, followed by a tsunami that led to three of the six reactors at the plant going into meltdown, causing the radiation leaks.

Bloomberg reports:

Earlier tests and reports have indicated high levels of radiation contamination in soil samples even outside the 20- kilometer (12-mile) exclusion zone around the Fukushima plant.

On May 24, samples measured more than 1.48 million becquerels a square meter, the standard used for evacuating residents after the Chernobyl accident, Tomio Kawata, a fellow at the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan, said in a research report given to the government.

Soil samples showed one site with radiation from Cesium-137 exceeding 5 million becquerels per square meter about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) to the northwest of the Fukushima plant, according to Kawata’s study.

Five more sites about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Dai-Ichi showed radiation exceeding 1.48 million becquerels per square meter.

Radiation from the plant has spread over 600 square kilometers (230 square miles), according to Kawata’s report.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan is expected to explain the plan to local government officials when he visits Fukushima prefecture at the end of this week

The government and operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) have said radiation leaking from the plant has fallen dramatically five months after the accident, and they are planning to launch soil decontamination in nearby areas, AFP reports.