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Fukushima town to allow overnight stays for 1st time since nuke plant meltdowns

OKUMA, Fukushima -- Citizens of one part of this town in the Fukushima nuclear disaster evacuation zone will be able to return home for overnight stays beginning on April 24, the municipal government decided on April 11.

The stays -- the first in either Okuma or the town of Futaba, cohosts of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant -- are in preparation for the eventual lifting of the nuclear evacuation order. They will mark the first time since the March 2011 triple-meltdown at the plant that Okuma citizens will be permitted to stay in their homes overnight.

The eased rules will apply to two of the town's districts: Ogawara, already a "restricted residency" zone with annual accumulated radiation doses more than 20 millisieverts and less than 50 millisieverts; and Nakayashiki, an "evacuation order cancellation preparation" zone with annual doses less than 20 millisieverts. Together, the districts make up Okuma's "recovery base," but with 379 people in 139 households, they make up just 3.6 percent of the town's pre-disaster population.

The scheduled opening this month of a new hospital in neighboring Tomioka played a part in the Okuma town government's decision, as the facility guarantees emergency medical care will be available nearby.

The central government is aiming to lift the evacuation order for both the Ogawara and Nakayashiki districts by the time the Okuma municipal government has finished its new town hall in spring 2019.

Okuma Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe said, "We have finally come this far. We will make an effort to create better conditions for residents to return home through 'recovery bases.'"

(Japanese original by Seiichi Yuasa, Fukushima Bureau)

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