FUKUSHIMA – Residents of the village of Kawauchi, designated as part of a no-go zone due to the ongoing crisis at the nearby nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture, briefly returned home Tuesday to pick up personal belongings.
The evacuees were the first among residents of nine municipalities located in the legally binding no-entry zone, which covers areas within a 20-km radius of the radiation-leaking Fukushima No. 1 plant, to be allowed to visit their homes since the government designated the area off-limits on April 22.
A total of 92 evacuees, aged between 21 and 85, from 54 households made the two-hour trip and were allowed to retrieve items that could be put into plastic bags measuring 70 cm in both length and width, Kawauchi officials said.
The evacuees wore protective suits, masks, goggles and gloves for protection against radiation exposure and returned home on government-chartered buses.
They were required to undergo screening for radioactive substances after visiting their homes.
“I hope the residents will be able to do what they need to do (during their visits) and return safely,” said Kawauchi Mayor Yuko Endo, as he greeted evacuees at the entrance of a gymnasium where they were briefed about the plan earlier in the day.
At the gymnasium, residents at one point mounted a protest against the government’s request for them to sign a document confirming they would be entering the zone on their own responsibility, with some saying they were the “victims” in the situation.
An official said both the central government and the village had agreed to ask the residents for their signatures, adding, “We wanted the residents to understand there are risks, including exposure to radiation.”
Similar brief visits will be carried out in stages for residents of the eight other municipalities who have been forced to evacuate due to the nuclear crisis triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which has also sparked worries about food safety due to possible radioactive contamination of crops.
In a separate move, the village of Iitate, also in Fukushima Prefecture, plans to evacuate the first group of its residents, possibly this weekend, in accordance with a central government request, officials said. Around 400 people from about 140 households — mainly those with pregnant women, babies and children up to kindergarten age — will leave the village for housing facilities in the city of Fukushima and other areas, according to village officials.