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SALT LAKE CITY -- Leaders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Tuesday the church will move missionaries from some areas of Japan due to the concerns about radiation from endangered nuclear power plants.
In a press conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said the missionaries will be moved three times the distance recommended by the Japanese government to keep them safe from radiation.
"We're moving them to very safe distances. Whatever the government is saying, we're doubling or tripling that distance," Elder Holland said. "If they tell us to move the missionaries 30 kilometers, we're moving them 90."
Elder Brian Shaw, a Utah missionary serving in the Sendai mission, is one of those who have been moved. Thanks to a photograph taken by another church member in Japan, his family now has visual proof that he is safe.
"It's a really nice feeling to know someone is watching over him," said Jennifer Hansen, Shaw's sister.
"I think it's a good idea to move them out of Sendai," she added.
After a nuclear power plant damaged by fire and explosions emitted a burst of radiation Tuesday, the Japanese government ordered 140,000 people living within 20 miles of the plant to seal themselves indoors to avoid exposure.
Elder Holland says that while it's not believed the radiation is dangerously high at the moment, the church is taking all precautions.
The radiation concern is just part of it, Elder Holland said. With food and water shortages and shelters very full, church leaders felt a responsibility not to add to the burden of residents who may want to take care of the missionaries.
As many as 200 missionaries being moved are from the Sendai and Tokyo missions. The relocated missionaries will be moved to the north and south.
Elder Holland said all 638 Mormon missionaries of many nationalities living in Japan, including 342 from the United States, are safe and accounted for.
The LDS Church also announced it has been able to identify and document the safety of all members of the Church in the affected area except for one ward and two branches.
"We want to express our sympathy and support for all of the people of Japan. This is not just a concern for Latter-day Saints who are there," Elder Holland said. "Substantial financial help has already been committed to the nation, to the people, regardless of their religious affiliation."
The church also says it has received no reports of members injured or killed so far, but that could change as recovery efforts continue.
Though the church is concerned about getting help to all of the people of Japan who need it, traditional humanitarian methods are not yet in place.
"When there's a natural catastrophe somewhere, the missionaries have often been the ones out there distributing the food and handing out the blankets," Elder Holland said. "We won't be doing that with any missionary in this case until we have better information about the radiation issue."
In the wake of the disaster, Elder Holland said the church is doing all it can to meet the needs of everyone in Japan. Church leaders, he said, have already made a substantial financial donation to the government of Japan to aid in relief efforts.