Japanese families torn as return to Fukushima 'hot zone' begins

Tue Apr 1, 2014 3:15pm EDT
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By Mari Saito

TAMURA, Japan (Reuters) - People in Japan on Tuesday began their first homecomings in three years to a small area evacuated after the Fukushima disaster, but families are divided as worries about radiation and poor job prospects have kept many away.

The reopening of the Miyakoji area of Tamura, a city 220 km (140 miles) northeast of Tokyo and inland from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear station, marks a tiny step for Japan as it attempts to recover from the 2011 disasters.

But the event is a major milestone for the 357 registered residents of the district. The trickle of returnees highlights both people's desire to return to the forested hamlet and the difficulty of returning to normal.

"Many of our friends and neighbors won't come back," said Kimiko Koyama, 69, speaking on her return to the large farmhouse she had occupied for 50 years, while her husband Toshio, 72, tried to fix a television antenna on the roof.

"There are no jobs. It's inconvenient and young people are scared of radiation," she said. "My daughter won't bring our grandsons here because of the radiation."

Miyakoji, set amid rolling hills and rice paddies, has been off-limits to most residents since March 2011, when the government ordered evacuations after a devastating earthquake and tsunami triggered a triple meltdown at the power plant on the Pacific coast about 20 km (12 miles) away.

"The evacuation period was long, but I am happy that we can finally return home," said Tamura Mayor Yukei Tomitsuka. "For Tamura and its families, this is a fresh start."


Kimiko Koyama, 69, who evacuated from the Miyakoji area of Tamura three years ago, dusts off her house after she returned to her home with her husband Toshio, 76, in Tamura, Fukushima prefecture April 1, 2014. REUTERS/Issei Kato