Three years ago when the Fukushima nuclear disaster forced people to evacuate their homes, many were left wondering when and if they would ever be able to return. The Miyakoji area of Tamura, a city 12 miles away from the disaster area, is finally allowing residents to return home first time since the earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit. Although the small city is only home to a registered 357 residents, it is a big step down the road to recovery for those displaced by the disaster.

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The news isn’t all good, however. Some people worry that the government is allowing people to return prematurely, essentially using them as guinea pigs. Others hesitate to bring back children, who are generally more susceptible to radiation, which means that some families risk splitting up over wanting to return home. “The town will be broken up,” says Kitaro Saito, a resident who opposes lifting the ban.

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All told, the disaster displaced over 160,000 people in 2011 from various cities near the Fukushima power plant. A full third of those people are still living in temporary residences while Japan deals with the contamination, but new leaks and other problems have put the cleanup behind schedule.

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Cleanup is an intensive process and many believe that Japan won’t be able to achieve its original decontamination goals. The process requires removing top soil, trimming trees and washing home exteriors with water to reduce radiation levels. As a result of the accident, Fukushima has pledged to convert to renewable energy.

Via Reuters

Lead image from likeablerodent and Kawamoto Takuo