About 20,000 families from the exclusion zone around Japan’s wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant will be allowed to return to their homes from Sept. 19 to collect belongings and check their properties.
They will be permitted to return in their own cars for the first time, said Masato Kino, spokesman at the Emergency Response Headquarters in Fukushima prefecture. In previous visits residents were taken on buses under tight restrictions.
“A majority of evacuees have said they want to return by their own means,” Kino said.
They will be returning to the 20-kilometer (12-mile) exclusion band around the Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s crippled nuclear power plant, parts of which are highly contaminated. The Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant has been spewing radiation since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami caused three reactor meltdowns.
Returnees will be required to go in pairs for a four-hour visit, said Hiroyuki Wada, a national government official involved in the response to the crisis. Tokyo Electric will provide equipment including dosimeters and protective garments at two checkpoints that will be opened for the trips.
Cars will have transceivers attached before they enter so their movements can be monitored.
In the first week, 700 cars will be allowed to enter the zone, Kino said. They will be decontaminated at the boundary of the zone.
About 78,000 people in 26,600 households lived in the 20-kilometer exclusion area before the disaster, said Satoshi Ohsumi, an official in the Emergency Response Center of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. Residents who lived within three kilometers of the plant won’t be allowed to return, Ohsumi said.