KORIYAMA, Japan — Japan allowed nearly 100 evacuees from a village near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to briefly return home Tuesday in radiation suits, masks and goggles to pick up personal belongings.
It was to be the first such organised return trip since the government declared a 20-kilometre (12-mile) exclusion zone around the plant after the March 11 quake-tsunami, and sealed it off as a legal no-go zone on April 21.
The plant, where reactor cooling systems were knocked out by the giant wave, has been hit by explosions and leaked radiation into the air, ground and sea in the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl 25 years ago.
In all, more than 85,000 people have been moved to shelters from areas around the plant, including from a wider 30-kilometre zone, where people were first told to stay indoors and later urged to leave.
On the first organised trip back, about 95 people from Kawauchi-mura, a village southwest of the plant, were to wear protective clothing and carry radiation dosimeters and walkie-talkies to visit their houses for two hours.
“I didn’t think I would be feeling this tense before I return to my house,” local resident Masao Yanai told TV Asahi at a public gym just outside the off-limits area that served as their gathering place.
“Authorities say the level of radioactive contamination should not harm human health. But, yes, the contamination is a bit worrying.”
Yanai hoped to make the best of the two-hour trip, during which each villager was allowed to fill a 70-by-70-centimetre (27.5 by 27.5-inch) plastic bag with personal items, such as family photos, money and bank records.
“I don’t remember where I put some of my things. It’s difficult to know how well things will go,” he added.
The residents held a practice session last week and were to receive another lecture at the gym, before being bussed into the area. They were banned from taking out pets, livestock, water or food.
During their visit, they must also avoid any action that might compromise their protective clothing, including using the bathroom.
Once their visit is over in the early afternoon, they will be bussed back to the public gym for health checkups and radiation screenings, both of themselves and any items they are bringing out.
Before the home visit started, some elderly men said they wished to feed their pets, and bring family photos and medical equipment.
Another man said he wished to check on the cows at his farm.
“I regard this temporary visit only as a way to ease my concerns,” Yanai said. “I cannot bring back large items. But I will go to see my house. I am telling myself that’s OK for now.”