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Japan nuclear evacuees make brief trip home

by Staff Writers
Koriyama, Japan (AFP) May 10, 2011
Nearly 100 villagers forced to flee their homes near Japan's stricken nuclear plant made a brief but emotional return on Tuesday in radiation suits and masks to pick up personal belongings.

Some wept and others voiced concern about radiation contamination during the two-hour visit, which gave the evacuees the chance to salvage photos of loved ones or merely spend a reflective few moments in familiar surroundings.

It was the first such state-organised trip since Japan declared a 20-kilometre (12-mile) exclusion zone around the plant after the March 11 quake-tsunami. The facility was sealed off as a no-go area last month.

The Fukushima plant, where reactor cooling systems were knocked out, has since 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.

One of those taken back inside the no-man's land, a rural area now left to roaming livestock and abandoned pets, was a middle-aged housewife who took the chance to clear rotten food from her refrigerator.

"I have to take out everything and throw it away," she told a TV crew travelling with the group. "I dream of the day when I can come home and fill it up again."

Dairy farmer Tetsuo Akimoto, 74, from Kawauchi-mura village, was dismayed to see his 10 cows and bulls had gone missing, telling a Nippon TV crew: "Look, here are footprints."

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.

Similar organised bus trips are expected to go on for months -- the only chance people will have to gather vital belongings until the evacuation order is expected to be reviewed some time next year.

On the first trip back, the 92 people from Kawauchi-mura, southwest of the plant, wore protective clothing and carried radiation dosimeters and walkie-talkies to visit their houses for two hours.

As they gathered for the trip at a public gym just outside the off-limits area, mayor Yuko Endo told them: "Many people have expressed the wish to go to your houses, and Kawauchi-mura is kicking off the temporary home visits.

"I ask you to return safely."

The residents mounted a protest against the government's request for them to sign documents saying they would enter the zone at their own risk, with some charging that they were "victims", Kyodo News reported.

A government official reportedly explained that "we wanted the residents to understand there are risks, including exposure to radiation".

Each villager was allowed to fill a 70-by-70-centimetre (27.5 by 27.5-inch) plastic bag with items such as family photos, money, bank records and laptops.

During their visit, residents had to avoid any action that might compromise their protective clothing, including using the bathroom.

On their back out again, they went through health checkups and radiation screenings of both themselves and items they brought out.

Pre-departure, local resident Masao Yanai told TV Asahi: "I didn't think I would be feeling this tense before I return to my house.

"The authorities say the level of radioactive contamination should not harm human health. But, yes, the contamination is a bit worrying."

TV footage showed the villagers in white suits walking through the lush but deserted farm land, which was moist from an early morning rain.

"What was strange was to see the residents in protective clothing walking through it," a journalist who accompanied them said on Nippon TV.

"Many people picked up family pictures, clothing and spiritual tablets" of their ancestors and deceased loved ones, he said.

"Many were glad to check on their houses, but some people wept, knowing that they will not be able to return for a long time."

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Japan's Kan declines PM's pay over nuclear crisis
Tokyo (AFP) May 10, 2011
Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Tuesday he would not accept his premier's wage until a crisis at the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear plant is over and pledged a full review of the country's energy policy. Kan was speaking hours after about 100 villagers who fled their homes near the stricken plant made brief but emotional return journeys into the rural no-man's land in radiation suits an ... read more

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