New signs emerged Friday that parts of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant were so damaged and contaminated that it would be even harder to bring the plant under control soon.
At the same time, Japanese officials began encouraging people to evacuate a larger band of territory around the complex.
Speaking to a national audience at a news conference on Friday night, two weeks after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and the devastating tsunami that followed it, Prime Minister Naoto Kan dodged a reporter’s question about whether the government was ordering a full evacuation, saying officials were simply following the recommendation of the Japan Nuclear Safety Commission.
“The situation still requires caution,” Mr. Kan, grave and tired-looking, told the nation. “Our measures are aimed at preventing the circumstances from getting worse.” The authorities said that they would now assist people who wanted to leave the area from 12 to 19 miles outside the plant, and that they were now encouraging “voluntary evacuation” from the area.
Those people had been advised March 15 to remain indoors, while those within a 12-mile radius of the plant had been ordered to evacuate. The United States has recommended that its citizens stay at least 50 miles away.
“The state of the plant is still quite precarious,” Mr. Kan said. “We’re working hard to make sure it doesn’t get worse. We have to ensure there’s no further deterioration.”