Pupils return to school in Fukushima's shadow

Original story by McCurry in Kawauchi, Fukushima prefecture guardian.co.uk, Monday 16 April 2012

Japan has lifted evacuation orders for some villages just outside the 12-mile exclusion zone, but life is still dominated by radiation and the nuclear power plant.

Kawauchi has welcomed back its youngest residents with music, applause and speeches – but not a single reference to radiation – as the village, located in the shadow of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, took a cautious first step towards post-meltdown normality.

Teachers and parents fought back tears when pupils from the local nursery, primary and middle schools began a new term recently, more than a year after the nuclear accident forced them out of their homes.

While workers at the plant struggle to contain thousands of tonnes of radioactive water and begin a decommissioning operation expected to last decades, the government earlier this month lifted evacuation orders in three locations just outside the 12-mile no-go zone.

In the coming weeks, 16,000 of the more than 100,000 people displaced by the nuclear crisis could be able to return to their old neighbourhoods, although they will not be allowed to stay overnight until their homes have been decontaminated.

“There were times when we never thought we would be able to return and get on with our lives again,” Yoshinobu Ishii, the head of Kawauchi board of education, told parents and children. “There are only a few of us here, and I know you are missing your friends who are still living in temporary accommodation. These things take time. And remember, the whole of Japan wants us to succeed.”

The village of Tamura has also lifted its evacuation order, and Minamisoma is expected to shortly do the same for parts of the city closest to the power plant.

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