MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Although the East Japan Railway Company began service between Tokyo and Aomori on Friday, military members will not be catching a ride on the train because of travel restrictions.
The U.S. military has banned its members from traveling within 80 kilometers — nearly 50 miles — of the Fukushima nuclear plant, according to Misawa Air Base officials.
Both the Tohoku bullet train line and the Tohoku Expressway — the two main choices for ground transportation between Tokyo and northeastern Japan — lie within the restricted zone. The expressway has been open for weeks, although many sections are limited to one lane as work crews repair cracks suffered during the March 11 quake and multiple strong aftershocks.
U.S. troops and civilian employees at Misawa can request an exception if they’re trying to travel to or from Tokyo, but only the 35th Fighter Wing command and vice commander are authorized to give approval, according to wing spokeswoman Staff Sgt. Rachel Martinez.
U.S. Forces Japan is “engaged in a scientific study” to determine whether it is safe enough to allow unimpeded travel on the highway and train, according to Martinez.
“We expect that .... to come shortly from USFJ, but until then, restrictions remain in place,” she said.
Japan’s largest-ever recorded earthquake caused serious damage along the train line and officials have raced to reopen service by the start of the annual “Golden Week” holidays that began Friday.