Japan Earthquake: To Stay or to Go?

By Paul Pennay
Published: 2011-03-17

Today we woke to the news that a new fire had broken out at the No. 4 reactor of the Fukushima nuclear plant and live television images of smoke emerging from the nuclear facility screened constantly on the national broadcaster throughout the rest of the morning.
An official press conference at 11am provided frustratingly little in the way of an explanation of the new developments, which helped to further ratchet up the pressure for the many who were glued to their screens seeking updates on developments at the plant and what it might mean for their safety.
As workers and soldiers worked to control the situation at the troubled nuclear plant, many in Tokyo were trying to assess the likelihood that any potential radioactive leak from the plant could reach the capital and whether they should remain in the city or leave.
Though many tourists had decided to leave on Tuesday, Wednesday saw the trend spread to longer-term residents of the country.
Reuters reported that many foreign bankers had already fled the city and cited “industry sources” as saying that many senior executives at many of the big-name financial institutions had also left.
One foreign resident of the city told the EO that it was more the pressure from family members abroad, urging him to come home, rather than anything else that helped him to make the decision to leave.
Over the course of the day and into the early hours of Thursday morning, various foreign embassies also upgraded their advice to nationals still in the Tokyo region.
As of Tuesday, most foreign governments had simply been urging their citizens not to visit the most severely affected regions in the north east of the country and had also helped to organize transportation for those seeking to flee those areas.
But on Wednesday, various countries announced that they were now advising nationals to also consider leaving the Tokyo area.
"We have suggested to our compatriots who are not obliged to stay in Tokyo to come back to France or leave for the south of Japan at once," French Prime Minister Francois Fillon told the National Assembly. "The government has asked Air France to mobilize aircraft in Asia to respond without delay to the request of our citizens."

"We call on all Germans to leave the region of Tokyo and Yokohama via Osaka," German Foreign Ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke told a regular government briefing Wednesday.

Australia Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said "If your presence is not essential, if you're in Tokyo or those eight affected prefectures, then you should consider leaving," adding "where people depart to is a matter for them... but this is something they should consider if their presence in Japan is not absolutely essential."

Switzerland also advised its citizens to leave north-east Japan and Tokyo. "At the moment, the development in the damaged nuclear facility is unpredictable and aftershocks are possible," said Swiss president Micheline Calmy-Rey.

An updated travel advisory on the British Foreign Office website which was released in the early hours of Thursday morning (Japan time) stated that - "British nationals currently in Tokyo and to the north of Tokyo should consider leaving the area."

Unlike many other embassies, the U.S. is still not recommending that its citizens consider leaving Tokyo. However, Reuters reported that the U.S. State Department had recommended that citizens living within 80 km (50 miles) of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, should evacuate the area or take shelter indoors. This is 50km larger than the 30km exclusion zone that Japanese authorities established on Tuesday.