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Eight years after Fukushima, what has made evacuees come home? via The Guardian

Tens of thousands were evacuated after the tsunami and nuclear meltdown in March 2011. Less than a quarter have returned. Some of those who did explain why

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Radiation forced tens of thousands to evacuate, turning towns and villages into no-go zones. Today, neighbourhoods closest to the plant are trapped in time. Homes have fallen into disrepair and weeds and other plants have been left to swallow up pavements, roads and once well-tended gardens, while boar and other wild animals roam the streets.

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But these are modest gains. In areas that have been declared safe for human habitation, many residents have decided to stay away, citing radiation fears, especially for their children, and a lack of medical facilities and other social infrastructure. Only 23% of those living in areas that were declared off-limits after the disaster have returned, according to government figures.

Workers at Fukushima Daiichi are battling with huge quantities of radioactive water, while decommissioning the plant is expected to take at least four decades. Eight years after the world’s second-biggest nuclear disaster (after Chernobyl), the Observer met residents who have decided to resume their lives in areas that were once declared a nuclear no-go zone – to work, study and spend their twilight years in the place they call home.

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The sisters

At Rumiko and Eriko Konno’s school, getting the teacher’s attention is rarely a problem. The sisters are two of only seven pupils attending Namie Sosei primary and middle school two and a half miles from the nuclear power plant. The new school, complete with an all-weather football pitch, was built with government money in an attempt to bring young families back to Namie, where only 900 of the pre-disaster population of 21,000 have returned since the evacuation order was partially lifted in 2017.
“I was conflicted about bringing them back,” says their mother, Mayumi. “But now, a year on, they have settled in, I have found work and I’m sure we did the right thing.” The school will welcome six more pupils when the new academic year starts in April.

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But now, Sakuma is back in business after the ban on shipping raw milk from Fukushima was lifted in late 2017. Rigorous testing shows the milk from his cows is safe, but overcoming doubts among potential buyers was a challenge at first.

 Tetsuji Sakuma worked for years to make his dairy farm a success. Photograph: Justin McCurry/The Observer
“I studied radiation and was prepared for any questions that might come up over safety,” says Sakuma, who took over the farm in Katsurao village from his father more than 20 years ago.

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