Kamis, 26 Mei 2011

Nuke town residents allowed 2-hour visit back home

Japan (AP) — Residents of the town around Japan's radiation-leaking nuclear plant donned protective suits and briefly returned home to collect belongings 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 allowed gave resident 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.

With better data now coming in, the government also recently added more areas to its evacuation zone, meaning thousands of people in places previously believed to be safe are just now preparing to leave their towns.

Including those left homeless by the quake and tsunami, more than 100,000 people remain in shelters across northern Japan. More than 25,000 were killed or are missing.

As the hardships of living in shelters became more acute, the government came under intense pressure to let evacuees back in for short trips. It initially said the situation was too dangerous and the plant too unstable. But after announcing last month that the evacuation order would likely drag on for another six to nine months, the day trips were approved.

Thursday's trip by about 60 townspeople started with a briefing by Futaba officials and safety instructions by experts from Tokyo Electric Power Co., or TEPCO., which operates the plant.

The residents were screened for radiation after the visit, but none showed health-threatening levels of exposure.

A government team also went with the residents to rescue stranded dogs. They brought out four, all of which were in good spirits. Earlier in the crisis, when prohibitions on entering the zone were not strictly enforced, several private groups left food and water for lost dogs, keeping many alive long enough to be rescued and returned to their owners.

Cats have been more difficult to bring back. None were rescued Thursday.

Mihoko Watanabe, 73, said she left food and water for her pet cat, who remains at her home in Futaba but could not be captured and rescued.

"I'm glad she's alive," Watanabe said. "But it's very sad. She's 23 years old."

source :http://www.reliablenews.com/

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