Japan: Nuke town residents allowed 2-hour visit back home
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Last Updated: Thursday, May 26, 2011, 16:48
  
Tamura: Residents of the town around Japan's radiation-leaking nuclear plant donned protective suits and briefly returned home to collect belongings on Thursday for the first time since the complex went into crisis in March.

Futaba's 8,000 residents were evacuated soon after Japan's massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami flooded the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex and set off radiation leaks. Local officials and nuclear experts escorted several dozen of them back for a two-hour visit Thursday.

"It was just like it was when the quake hit," said Anna Takano, a 17-year-old high school student. "It felt very strange."

Takano said she packed up as much clothing from her home as she could and then made a 10-minute visit to her family grave site.

For most, it was the first time they had been able to check on homes and possessions. Similar visits began earlier for towns farther away from the plant, but Thursday's excursion went deeper into the 12-mile (20-kilometer) no-go zone around the plant than any before it.

Many evacuees from the nuclear zone did not realize how long the crisis would drag on and left with only the clothes they were wearing and their purses or wallets.

Due to radiation concerns, officials allowed only two people per household to return and let them stay at their homes only for two hours. They gave residents no more than one large black plastic bag for collecting things, because of space restrictions and fears of contamination.

"I planned very carefully what I would get," said Mikio Tadano, an architect. "I wanted to get my writing tools, my bankbook, and my daughter's school uniform."

Tadano said his daughter had transferred to a new school outside the zone where she was one of only four students without a uniform — all of them evacuees.

The residents donned white protective suits from head to foot at a sanitized gymnasium near the 12-mile (20-kilometer) perimeter, and then went into the zone by bus.

After the disaster knocked out cooling systems at the plant, it suffered explosions, fires and spewed radioactive particles into the air, prompting the government to order 80,000 residents around the plant to evacuate.

Radiation levels in most areas have since declined, but are believed to still pose potential health hazards if sustained for long periods of time.

The radiation in the air near the front gate of the plant surged to 12 millisieverts per hour on March 15, just hours after a third reactor exploded. On Thursday, the radiation level had fallen to 1 percent of that — 114 microsieverts, or 0.114 millisieverts — according to Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant operator.

A typical chest X-ray might emit about 50 to 100 microsieverts.

After the disaster knocked out cooling systems at the plant, it suffered explosions, fires and spewed radioactive particles into the air, prompting the government to order 80,000 residents around the plant to evacuate.

Radiation levels in most areas have since declined, but are believed to still pose potential health hazards if sustained for long periods of time.

The radiation in the air near the front gate of the plant surged to 12 millisieverts per hour on March 15, just hours after a third reactor exploded. On Thursday, the radiation level had fallen to 1 percent of that — 114 microsieverts, or 0.114 millisieverts — according to Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant operator.

A typical chest X-ray might emit about 50 to 100 microsieverts.

Bureau Report


First Published: Thursday, May 26, 2011, 16:48


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