N-plant overshadows future of nearby towns

More than 70,000 people have already been evacuated from an area within 20 km of the plant, and another 130,000 are within a zone extending a further 10 km in which residents are recommended to stay indoors. They too could be forced to leave their homes if the evacuation is extended due to worsening radiation levels.

Nobody in government has yet touched on the issue directly, but given growing worries about soil contamination in the largely rural area and bans on shipping and sales of local milk and vegetables, many residents fear the worst.

“Nobody wants to say it out loud, but I think that in their hearts everybody worries that they won’t be able to go home for years at least,” said Yoichi Azuma, principal of Koriyama Commercial School, not far west of the 30-km zone, whose gymnasium has been turned into an evacuation centre.

“People here have suffered three disasters: the quake, the tsunami and the invisible danger of radiation, which is a man-made disaster. We feel a lot of anger about the last one.”

Though some experts say the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, 240 km north of Tokyo, will likely turn out to be less serious than the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, the radioactive substances being emitted are the same—iodine 131, caesium-134 and caesium-137. Food contamination levels in Fukushima have risen sharply over the past week, opening up the logical option of extending the exclusion zone.

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