Fukushima locals face years out of homes
It may be years before residents of towns and villages close to the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor will be able to return to their homes.
Yukio Edano, Japan's chief cabinet secretary, warned on Friday that evacuees will not be allowed to return in the foreseeable future.
"I know for certain that it will not be a few days or weeks before we are able to call off the evacuation on a full scale," he said.
More than 70,000 people living inside a 12-mile evacuation zone around the Fukushima nuclear power plant have been moved to temporary shelters, and another 136,000 people living up to 18 miles away are being encouraged to leave.
In a televised address to the nation on Friday, Naoto Kan, the prime minister, said that he would do "whatever it takes to win the battle" at the nuclear power station.
"We cannot say that the plant has been sufficiently stabilised, but we are preparing for all kinds of situations," Mr Kan said.
"I am prepared for a long-term battle over the Fukushima nuclear plant and to win this battle."
The prime minister also sought to allay fears of the impact on the health of people living close to the plant, 137 miles north of Tokyo, saying that "as long as the public adheres to government advice, people's health will not be compromised."
However,the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said earlier that radioactive water may be flowing into the Pacific Ocean from damaged drainage systems.
The Tokyo Electric Power Company, TEPCO, also stated that groundwater around the plant is "highly" contaminated with radiation, at levels 10,000 times the legal limit, while radioactive Iodine-131 at 4,385 times the maximum permissible level has been detected in seawater just off the facility.
Japan's health ministry said it had extended a ban on shipments of some vegetables and dairy produce from the radiation-affected area to cover beef.
The government insists that water and food contamination has not reached levels harmful to health, and rejected calls from the International Atomic Energy Agency and environmental groups to extend the 18-mile exclusion zone around the plant.
Speculation is mounting, though, that the government will have to step in to help TEPCO face the colossal costs of compensating people and companies impacted by the Fukushima disaster. The company also faces allegations that safety standards were violated. (© Daily Telegraph, London)