2 Août 2013
August 2, 2013
TAMURA, Fukushima Prefecture—When the sun set on Aug. 1, Hisao Watanabe sat under the fluorescent lights of his living room in the Miyakoji district here and could not contain his joy.
“I don’t need to go back tonight,” said the 78-year-old farmer, who had grown accustomed to returning to a rental apartment in Tamura’s Funehiki-machi district.
Watanabe joined the government’s first long-stay program for nuclear disaster evacuees that started Aug. 1 in Miyakoji.
The district, which lies partly within a 20-kilometer radius of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, was designated a no-entry zone after the nuclear accident unfolded in March 2011. But it was reorganized as a “zone preparing for the evacuation order to be lifted” in April 2012.
The government said radioactive decontamination work in the area was completed in June, and that residents could return home for extended stays from August through October.
The returning residents must reapply for the long-stay program every month, and they can remain at their homes for a maximum of three months. The government is renting out dosimeters for residents who return, and it plans to lift the evacuation order as early as in November after consultations with the Tamura city government.
But with Tokyo Electric Power Co. still struggling with radioactive water leaks and other problems at the Fukushima plant, not everyone from Miyakoji is eager to return home.
Among the 380 residents of 121 households in the district, 112 residents of 28 households applied for long-term stays by July 31. Of them, 82 residents of 22 households returned to their homes on Aug. 1.
Most areas of the Miyakoji district still have radiation levels above the government’s long-term goal of 0.23 microsievert per hour or 1 millisievert a year, even after the decontamination work.
Watanabe, however, jumped at the opportunity to bring a sense of normalcy back to his life.
After the government decided to change the designation for the Miyakoji district, residents were allowed to visit their homes but only in the daytime. Longer-term stays were permitted for the year-end and other long holiday periods.
During the evacuation, Watanabe returned to his home every day, eager to clean up his house and work on his farm. But he always had to go back to the rental apartment in Funehiki-machi where he stayed with his wife, Misako, 72, their eldest son, Tomohiro, 52, and his wife.
Watanabe said he is now looking forward to having his grandchildren and their families visit him in Miyakoji during the mid-August Bon holidays.
“I will be able to work on the farm earlier from tomorrow,” he added.
August 1, 2013
Rice paddies are shown the morning of Aug. 1 in the Miyakoji district of Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture, where preparations are being made for shipping the rice crop this autumn. The area is the first designated evacuation zone where the government has permitted residents to return for "long-term stays" of three months.
Residents from the Miyakoji district of Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture, began returning home on Aug. 1 -- the first time the government has permitted the return to a designated evacuation zone following the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The residents will be allowed to remain in their homes for what the government is terming "long-term stays" of three months from August through October, with a subsequent extension of the period also possible. However, the number of residents who have decided to return is only a small percentage of the total.
The district, which is located within the 20 kilometer exclusion zone around the nuclear power plant, was one of three areas where the government designated previous evacuation zone orders to be lifted in April 2012. At the time, radiation exposure levels in Miyakoji were found to be 20 millisieverts or less per year.
Following the lifting of the orders, residents were allowed to return home and resume some of their former activities, although overnight stays were not permitted. Decontamination work on residential areas and other parts of the district was also undertaken, and was completed at the end of June this year.
Hisao and Chikako Tsuboi, a married farming couple from the Miyakoji district, left early on the morning of Aug. 1 to return home. They had been staying in a temporary housing unit in an area of Tamura city that was outside of the 20 kilometer exclusion zone.
"The drive takes 40 minutes, so we always worry about getting home before dark. It is really helpful that we are now allowed to stay overnight," commented Hisao, looking visibly relaxed.
With radiation levels around the Tsuboi's home finally lowered, the couple began returning just before the beginning of the rice planting season. They also started to cultivate cucumbers, watermelon and tomatoes. Radiation level monitoring of their vegetables showed passable levels of 5 becquerels or less per kilogram.
"Our customers in the Kanto area are waiting," Hisao added, referring to people in regions including Yokohama and Kawasaki to whom the couple has been supplying direct sales of rice and vegetables for a decade prior to the Great East Japan Earthquake. "Our clients are planning to make their first visit since the disaster, so we have to get things ready for them to be able to stay overnight," he added.
One problem that the Tsubois must contend with is the increase in wild boars that occurred after residents left the area. "They think they have the run of the place now," he said with regard to the animals, who targeted his cucumbers, lettuce and watermelon crops. "But if more people start returning, they'll have to begin behaving themselves."
Out of 119 total households in the area, however, only 28 have signed up to return under the "long-term stay" program -- and only around half of those are interested in returning for the long term.
Among residents' reasons for not returning home is their preference for remaining in the communities that they have established following the disaster. In any case, only a fraction of the total population is likely to participate in the scenario that the national and local governments are now envisioning.
"The people who really wanted to come back had begun making preparations since around last April," said Hisao dejectedly. "I doubt that many people will end up returning."