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Tokyo (CNN) — Japan’s government called for evacuations Monday from several towns beyond the danger zone already declared around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, warning that residents could receive high doses of radiation over the coming months.
April 11 (Reuters) TOKYO – Japan expanded the evacuation zone around a crippled nuclear plant to avoid exposing residents to high levels of accumulated radiation, as the struggle to contain the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl entered its second month.
The operator of the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex said it had stopped the discharge of low-level radioactive water into the sea that had drawn complaints from neighboring China and South Korea.
Tokyo Electric Power Co, TEPCO, said 10,400 tones of low-level radioactive water, left by the tsunami, had been pumped back into the sea in order to free up storage capacity for highly contaminated water from the reactors.
Monday, shortly after Japan marked one month since a March 11 earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear disaster, a huge aftershock shook a wide swathe of eastern Japan, killing two people, and knocking out power to 220,000 households.
The epicenter of Monday’s magnitude 6.6 tremor, which was followed by more than 25 aftershocks, was 68 km (90 miles) east of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex at the center of the crisis.
The government announced earlier that because of accumulated radiation contamination, it would encourage people to leave certain areas beyond its 20 km (12 mile) exclusion zone around the plant. Thousands of people could be affected by the move.
Children, pregnant women, and hospitalized patients should stay out of some areas 20-30 km from the nuclear complex, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters.
“These new evacuation plans are meant to ensure safety against risks of living there for half a year or one year,” he said. There was no need to evacuate immediately, he added.
The move comes amid international concern over radiation spreading from the six damaged reactors at Fukushima, which engineers are still struggling to bring under control after they were wrecked by the 15-meter tsunami on March 11.
TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu visited the area Monday for the first time the disaster. He had all but vanished from public view apart from a brief apology shortly after the crisis began and has spent some of the time since in hospital.
“I would like to deeply apologize again for causing physical and psychological hardships to people of Fukushima prefecture and near the nuclear plant,” said a grim-faced Shimizu.
Dressed in a blue work jacket, he bowed his head for a moment of silence with other TEPCO officials at 2:46 p.m. (0546 GMT), exactly a calendar month after the earthquake hit.
Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato refused to meet him, but the TEPCO boss left a business card at the government office.
Engineers at the plant north of Tokyo said they were no closer to restoring the plant’s cooling system, which is critical to bring down the temperature of overheated fuel rods and to bringing the six reactors under contr
By Yoko Kubota and Yoko Nishikawa
TOKYO | Mon Apr 11, 2011 3:07pm EDT