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Japan nuclear zone access reviewed

Authorities may for the first time ban access to the evacuation zone around Japan's crippled nuclear plant amid concerns over radiation risks to 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 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, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano.

Noriyuki Shikata, one of Edano's deputies, said the government was still considering details of how to control access to the immediate vicinity of the nuclear plant while also responding to demands from residents to check their homes and collect belongings.

Now that the situation at the plant appears to have stabilised, both residents and the authorities are considering how to best weather a protracted evacuation. Only a few warning signs, mainly about road conditions, have been erected in the area so far.

"There are a number of people who may be entering the area. Under the current regime, we are not in a position to legally enforce - there's no penalty for entering into the area. There is a realisation of a need to have a stronger enforcement of the area," Shikata said.

At present, police keep track of people entering the evacuation zone by noting down their licence plate numbers.

"Both the issue of ... strong enforcement of the area and a realisation of temporarily going back home is something we have to closely co-ordinate with local municipalities," Shikata said.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan will meet with local officials and evacuees to discuss the proposed measure during a visit to the affected region, Edano said.

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