TOKYO — Authorities may for the first time ban access to the evacuation zone around Japan's crippled nuclear plant, citing concerns Wednesday over radiation risks for residents who may be returning to check on their homes.
About 70,000-80,000 people were living in the 10 towns and villages within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, which has been leaking radiation after a March 11 earthquake and tsunami wrecked its power and cooling systems.
Virtually all left after being advised to do so, but some occasionally have returned, defying warnings from police who have set up roadblocks on only a few major roads in the area.
"We are considering setting up 'caution areas' as an option for effectively limiting entry" to the zone, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan will meet with local officials and evacuees to discuss the proposed measure during a visit to the affected region Thursday, Edano said.
Now that the situation at the plant appears to have stabilized somewhat, both residents and authorities are considering how to best weather a protracted evacuation. Residents have been demanding they be allowed to check their homes and collect belongings, while government officials are worried about radiation exposure.
Only a few warning signs, mainly about road conditions, have been erected in the area so far. Currently, there is no penalty for entering the area and police just not down the license plate numbers of those coming in. Officials say if there were a major accident, tracking down those inside would be nearly impossible.
"There are also issues surrounding non-residents who are entering the area. There are people who may steal things," said Noriyuki Shikata, one of Edano's deputies.
Shikata did not provide details of how the government might restrict entry to the area or when the restrictions would be put in place.