The Ministry of Defense of Japan said that a total of 18 bodies were found by the Japan-US forces as of 16:00 Friday, the first day of its three-day intensive search for missing bodies that were washed away offshore by the tsunami after a powerful quake hit Tohoku's northeast Pacific rim three weeks ago.
Japan's 18,000 Self-Defense Forces and the United States 7,000-strong military launched the thorough search that began on Friday, 30 kilometers away from the restricted zone of the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant.
With this development, the National Police Agency said the current death tally now stands at 11,620 with 16,464 people unaccounted for, according to Japan Today.
The places the Japan and US forces cover include the areas that were damaged by the tsunami or remain under water and mouths of major rivers in Iwate, Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures within 18 kilometers from the shoreline.
A total of 120 aircrafts and 65 ships from both countries were used in the operation.
Around 1,000 corpses lying within 20-kilometers from the damaged nuclear plant are unable to be collected by the authorities that are feared to be highly contaminated by radioactive materials, said VOA News.
The dead bodies perished in the 11 March twin disasters and were exposed to high levels of radiation after the nuclear plant exploded, according to Kyodo news.
The relatives of the victims were warned by the police that if the bodies were cremated—a tradition in the country—it is highly possible that radioactive particle will be released into the environs.
In the mean time, Japan is considering expanding the 20-kilometer evacuation zone to 40 kilometers when the nuclear safety agency detected the plant to be emitting radioactivity in the ocean about 4,385 times the standard limit.
The elevated radiation level is still not considered threatening unless it remains high over a period of time, Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told the media.
There are currently 200,000 quake victims who are living in temporary shelters. A total of 70,000 had been evacuated since the 20-kilometer zone was imposed. If the zone were expanded to 30 kilometers, an additional 136,000 will have to be relocated.
Prime Minister —who criticized the nuclear plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, for having insufficient tsunami defenses—will visit various disaster areas on 2 April.
Details of this report here.