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Ahead of a permanent return, Fukushima evacuees spend first night in homes since 2011 disaster

On Nov. 30, a couple who had previously evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture spent their first night in a decade back in their old home in the village of Katsurao, which remains part of an exclusion zone due to high levels of radiation emitted during the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011.

Their stay marked the first time residents had been allowed to remain in the area overnight.

The move is part of the government’s preparations before a planned lifting of the restrictions in some areas from spring of next year. Under the current rules, which have been gradually eased over past years, residents have been allowed into the zone for up to two hours at a time.

The area where the restrictions will be lifted — called the reconstruction region — spans some parts of Katsurao and six other municipalities, and has undergone recovery work.

According to Katsurao village authorities, 83 residents from 30 households are registered with the local government in the village’s Noyuki district. But many of their homes have been dismantled due to damage, prompting the village to set up accommodation for those staying overnight in the area.

Mitsuko Naito, 63, and her husband Kazuo, 64, visited their home on the morning of Nov. 30 to clean up. The couple built their new house in the village — Mitsuko’s hometown — in the fall of 2010, with a plan to move there in September 2011. The nuclear disaster forced them to put that plan on hold.

What motivated Mitsuko Naito to return to Katsurao was her strong desire to protect the land her parents had acquired. That their house there had remained undamaged also prompted the couple to consider going back.

Mitsuko Naito has often traveled from Tokyo, where the couple currently lives, to visit the house to clean it up, but each time she was only allowed to stay for about two hours.

“I can finally take my time to do what I want — like planting flowers,” she said.

Kazuo Naito added that he was happy to be finally able to stay in the village for dinner.

Similar restrictions will also be lifted next year in the town of Okuma, where residents were allowed to stay overnight on Dec. 3. According to Okuma municipal authorities, 31 people in 15 households applied to stay overnight.

This section features topics and issues covered by Fukushima Minpo, the prefecture’s largest newspaper. The original article was published Dec. 1.

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