For the first time since residents were evacuated due to the nuclear disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the government has allowed residents to return home to the Miyakoji district of Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture beginning August 1, but very few have opted to return. The district is located within the 20 kilometer exclusion zone around the nuclear plant, but the government had the evacuation zone orders lifted in this area as early as April 2012. Decontamination work on the residential areas of the district has been completed at the end of June this year.
The way the government plans it, residents will be allowed to remain in their homes for “long-term stays” of three months from August through October. Still, the number of residents who have decided to return is only a small percentage of the total. Hisao and Chikako Tsuboi, a married couple who are farmers from the said district, had taken this chance to return home. They had been staying in a temporary housing unit in Tamura city, outside of the exclusion zone. “The drive takes 40 minutes, so we always worry about getting home [back to the temporary housing unit] before dark. It is really helpful that we are now allowed to stay overnight,” Hisao said. He and his wife have returned just before the beginning of the rice planting season, so they will be able to plant rice. They have also started to grow cucumbers, watermelons and tomatoes again. Radiation levels of their vegetables showed acceptable levels of 5 becquerels or less per kilogram.
“Our customers in the Kanto area are waiting,” Hisao said, referring to people who used to buy rice and vegetables from them 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. Still, it is sad for him to see that so few had made a point of returning to this community.
Before the tragedy, there were 119 households in the area. Of that total, only 28 have signed up to return, and even then, only half of those are interested in returning for the long-term. There have been many new communities among evacuees created during the evacuation and exclusion period, and most residents have preferred to continue their lives within those new communes. Only a fraction of the total population is projected to participate in the “return home” scenario that the national and local governments are pushing for. “I doubt that many people will end up returning,” Hisao said dejectedly.