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Seoul advises citizens to keep away from Fukushima plant

South Korea is advising its citizens in Japan to evacuate to safe areas outside a radius of 80 kilometers from the quake-stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant, Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan said Thursday.

It had previously told Korean nationals to stay at least 30 kilometers away from the troubled plant. However, it has increased the safety distance as concerns over rising radiation levels are mounting.

“The U.S. and Britain are advising their people to be evacuated to safe areas outside a radius of 80 kilometers from the troubled plant. We are also complying with that (recommendation),” he told reporters.

“We plan to take a variety of additional steps as we watch how the situations unfold there. Seoul basically trusts the announcements and efforts by the Japanese government, and based on them, we will respond to the situations.”

Seoul has apparently been taking a cautious stance over whether to pull its citizens out of northeastern Japan as a rash decision to evacuate them could hurt ties with its grief-stricken neighbor.

While prioritizing the safety of its nationals, the government has been carefully watching what steps other nations take to protect their citizens.

Many countries including Germany, France, the U.S. and Australia have reportedly asked their nationals to refrain from traveling to Japan and to leave affected areas.

Diplomatic sources said that the Tokyo government has called on each country not to hastily withdraw its citizens and shut down or relocate factories from the earthquake-stricken region.

As radiation levels rise in Japan, calls have also been mounting for the withdrawal of the South Korean rescue team dispatched to the devastated region.

Officials here said that it will decide whether to pull out the team ― consisting of more than 100 rescuers, medical staff and Foreign Ministry officials ― based on the decision the Tokyo government makes over the withdrawal.

“I understand that where our rescue team is working is more than 100 kilometers away from the endangered nuclear power plant, and that there is no direct damage there yet. Our government will make a decision after watching what decisions and steps Japan would make,” Second Vice Foreign Minister Min Dong-seok told reporters.

Meanwhile, five South Koreans who had been unaccounted for were found to be safe Wednesday while the whereabouts of some 70 others remain unknown, the Foreign Ministry said.

The five people living in Miyagi Prefecture were taking shelter at evacuation facilities when the earthquake occurred last Friday. They contacted the general consulate in Sendai right after their telecommunications equipment was back up and running, officials explained.

As some 1,600 people are staying at the evacuation facilities, Seoul officials believe there will be some South Koreans among them.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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