Japan bans entry into nuclear evacuation zone (UPDATE)
Adds more details in grafs 2-6, background in graf 7 (first version posted at 08:12)
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Thursday the government had decided to ban entry into the 20-kilometre exclusion zone around a damaged nuclear power plant.
Kan announced the decision, which will come into effect Thursday at midnight, during his his talks with Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato at the Fukushima prefectural office.
In Fukushima, many residents left the area in the wake of the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, which was crippled by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and is leaking radiation.
As the plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said it would take six to nine months to bring the troubled reactors under control, the government will let evacuees return home for short periods.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a news conference the government would allow only one person per family to return for up to around two hours. The government will have them wear protective clothing and carry dosimeters to measure their exposure to radiation.
Edano said the government was to start allowing residents to return briefly in a few days and expected the process to be completed in one to two months.
The government had told residents within 20 kilometres of the plant to evacuate, but there was originally no formal order to vacate the area. Those in areas between 20 and 30 kilometres from the plant have been asked to leave voluntarily or stay indoors.
Some residents have returned to their homes to pick up belongings, despite fears of radiation.