TAMURA, Fukushima Prefecture—When the sun set on Aug. 1, Hisao Watanabe sat under the fluorescent lights of his living room in the Miyakoji district here and could not contain his joy.
“I don’t need to go back tonight,” said the 78-year-old farmer, who had grown accustomed to returning to a rental apartment in Tamura’s Funehiki-machi district.
Watanabe joined the government’s first long-stay program for nuclear disaster evacuees that started Aug. 1 in Miyakoji.
The district, which lies partly within a 20-kilometer radius of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, was designated a no-entry zone after the nuclear accident unfolded in March 2011. But it was reorganized as a “zone preparing for the evacuation order to be lifted” in April 2012.
The government said radioactive decontamination work in the area was completed in June, and that residents could return home for extended stays from August through October.
The returning residents must reapply for the long-stay program every month, and they can remain at their homes for a maximum of three months. The government is renting out dosimeters for residents who return, and it plans to lift the evacuation order as early as in November after consultations with the Tamura city government.
But with Tokyo Electric Power Co. still struggling with radioactive water leaks and other problems at the Fukushima plant, not everyone from Miyakoji is eager to return home.
Among the 380 residents of 121 households in the district, 112 residents of 28 households applied for long-term stays by July 31. Of them, 82 residents of 22 households returned to their homes on Aug. 1.
Most areas of the Miyakoji district still have radiation levels above the government’s long-term goal of 0.23 microsievert per hour or 1 millisievert a year, even after the decontamination work.
Watanabe, however, jumped at the opportunity to bring a sense of normalcy back to his life.
After the government decided to change the designation for the Miyakoji district, residents were allowed to visit their homes but only in the daytime. Longer-term stays were permitted for the year-end and other long holiday periods.
During the evacuation, Watanabe returned to his home every day, eager to clean up his house and work on his farm. But he always had to go back to the rental apartment in Funehiki-machi where he stayed with his wife, Misako, 72, their eldest son, Tomohiro, 52, and his wife.
Watanabe said he is now looking forward to having his grandchildren and their families visit him in Miyakoji during the mid-August Bon holidays.
“I will be able to work on the farm earlier from tomorrow,” he added.
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