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article imageHigh radiation beyond Japan exclusion zone, 70,000 urged to leave

By Lynn Herrmann     May 25, 2011 in Politics
Tokyo - A French nuclear watchdog group is urging 70,000 people, including almost 10,000 children, in an area beyond the 20-kilometer exclusion zone northwest of Fukushima’s Daiichi nuclear plant, to evacuate because of dangerous levels of radiation.
In its latest assessment of the Daiichi nuclear meltdown, France’s Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) calls the highlighted area “the most contaminated territory outside the evacuation zone,” Agence France Presse reports.
Basing its information on radioactivity data supplied by Japanese authorities and US overflights of the radioactive zone, IRSN environment director Didier Champion told AFP additional evacuations are in order. “These are people who are still to be evacuated, in addition to those who were evacuated during the emergency phase in March.”
The evacuation news comes after Japanese officials finally admitted, more than two months after the fact, a meltdown had occurred in three of the six reactors at the Daiichi nuclear facility. Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) announced earlier this month its No.1 reactor at Daiichi suffered a meltdown within hours of the devastating tsunami which struck March 11. This week the power company also confirmed the No.2 and No.3 reactors suffered meltdowns by the third day after the tsunami.
The severity of the nuclear disaster, far greater than publicly acknowledged by officials, is now causing second thoughts by some. Goshi Hosono, director of Japan’s nuclear crisis task force, referencing the latest news on the meltdowns, said: “We should have made a more cautious damage estimate based on a worse scenario,” Huffington Post reports.
Levels of radioactivity in the area beyond the exclusion zone range from several hundred becquerels per square meter to several million becquerels per square meter, the IRSN report noted. People staying in this area would be exposed to radiation more than 10 millisieverts (mSv) the first year following the disaster.
Ten mSv is the level noted in French safety guidelines for civilian population protection after a nuclear accident, and is three times higher than normal background radiation coming from natural sources.
“Ten mSV is not a dangerous dose in and of itself, it's more a precautionary dose,” Champion told AFP, but he noted this number does not include additional doses from contaminated water and food.
In the newly identified radioactive zone, more than 26,000 people could be at risk of exposure to doses greater than 16 mSv the year after the disaster.
The 10 mSv benchmark level is obtained from calculating exposure to at least 600,000 becquerels per square meter emitted by caesium 137 and 134, long-lasting radioactivity.
Japanese officials ordered additional evacuations on May 15, just days after TEPCO released data on the No.1 reactor meltdown. Wind patterns caused consistently high amounts of radioactive material to be recorded in the villages of Iidate-mura and Kawamata-cho, located 30 kms away from Daiichi. Combined, more than 5,000 people were forced to evacuate.
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