• The Tokyo government is finally re-defining the Fukushima evacuation zone. The existing 20km no-go zone and northwest evacuation corridor will be modified based on actual surveys of radiation levels made this year. The government said it is rearranging the evacuation zone based on three categories of contamination, rather than by distance. The existing perimeter had been criticized as an inexact measure of safety. The immediate focus is on three municipalities – Kawauchi, Tamura and Minamisoma. All have portions of their geographic areas inside the no-go zone, and parts that lay outside. It was decided to lift entry restrictions for the no-go parts of Tamura City and Kawauchi Village on Sunday. Kawauchi mayor Yuko Endo welcomed the announcement, “The revision comes at a right time just as the town tries to rebuild and [be] reborn.” Restrictions for Minamisoma City will be lifted on April 16th. Up to 16,000 people can now return home. Initially, they won’t be allowed to stay overnight and some must wear protective gear (Minamisoma). When they will be allowed to return home around-the-clock is not known. “The reorganization would be the foundation for the reconstruction of the affected towns. We will thoroughly discuss how we can best accommodate their needs,” Economy and Trade Minister Yukio Edano said on Friday. Decisions on the eight other municipalities either wholly or partially inside one of the existing evacuation zones will occur at some point later this month. (Japan Today)
  • At a disaster task force meeting, Prime Minister Noda said, “We have decided to revise the restriction bans placed on the evacuation areas.” Even as the restrictions are relaxed on Kawauchi, Tamura and Minamisoma, the government is still in talks with the remaining eight cities over lifting the ban. The government hopes that lifting the entry bans will speed up decontamination by allowing freer return of evacuees to their homes. (News on Japan)
  • The neighboring towns of Tomioka, Naraha and Okuma remain off-limits. Barricades five meters wide, 80 centimeters high and weighing 600 kilograms have been placed on roads between the three now-opened communities and the three that remain restricted. Checkpoints for entry have also been shifted on the roads to accommodate the change. “We can now return home without an entry permit,” said Katsutoshi Kusano, a 67-year-old Kawauchi resident. (Yomiuri Shimbun)

Other updates…

  • Prime Minister Noda has reinforced Japan’s commitment to nuclear safety relative to restarting nukes. He spoke to an Upper House committee about the issue today. He said that he and his Cabinet Ministers will judge the restarts in the most comprehensive way possible. On a negative note, Industry Minister Yukio Edano says he is not convinced of the assessments by experts on the recent stress test findings. (JAIF)
  • The mayors of five municipalities in Niigata Prefecture said Saturday they will accept tsunami debris. Officials in Niigata, Nagaoka, Kashiwazaki, Sanjo and Shibata will brief their residents in April. “We received support in the past when we were hit by earthquakes and floods,” Niigata Mayor Akira Shinoda told a joint news conference. The shipments must contain less than 100 Becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram of debris. (Kyodo News)
  • The ceiling on radioactive Cesium in food has been lowered to 100 Becquerels per kilogram. As a result, some prefectures have increased the scope of their food monitoring programs. Tochigi Prefecture will double or triple the number of samples tested, according to official Hiroyuki Sugimoto. “We will be certainly busier (than now)… But it is our job to check produce more thoroughly and disclose the results to consumers. Recently, barely any radioactive cesium was found in produce grown in Tochigi, except for mushrooms and fish. But the important thing is to continue testing and let consumers know no radioactive cesium was found.” Sugimoto said. A Fukushima prefectural official said, however, they have no plans to increase food sampling, except for buying more testing devices, because it is already checking about 200 food products a day. The Health Ministry said a person would be exposed to less than 1 millisievert of radiation a year by eating the average Japanese meal of food products contaminated with Cesium at 100 Becquerels per kilogram. (Japan Times)
  • Food containing Cesium above new limit has already been found in 421 samples from eight prefectures since January. All of the samples are below the old 500 Becquerel/kg limit. The Health Ministry says the food samples were found in eight prefectures – Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi, Yamagata, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba. 80% involved fish while the remainder included shiitake mushrooms and the meat of wild animals (boars and birds). (Kyodo News)
  • The new Cesium contamination limit on food is upsetting fishing communities along the Nojiri River in Okuaizu. “This river’s sweetfish is exceptional,” Kiroku Gonoi, 65, the head of a local fisheries cooperative said as he posted a sign for “No Fishing “. “It was decided by the government so the only thing we can do is accept it,” Gonoi says. “We have to prevent the possibility that children eat the fish and something happens to them.” In addition, the fisheries cooperative of Kaneyama town and Showa village near the Nojiri River was forced to postpone this year’s mountain stream fishing season, which was to begin on Sunday. Last spring and summer, due to harmful rumors and other related reasons, the number of fishing visitors to the river decreased drastically. The local fishermen were counting on a comeback this season. Fish samples taken from the river show between 119 and 139 Becquerels per kilogram, which is above the new 100 Becquerel limit. The decision to postpone the fishing season will affect not only fishermen but also local inns. Actual radiation doses on the Nojiri River area are not high, and many wonder what led to the recent high contamination readings. “We are not exactly sure why cesium has accumulated in the fish. It could be that they were contaminated through the food chain,” an official with the Fukushima Prefecture’s fisheries division said. (Mainichi Shimbun)