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Three Years On, Residents Can Return to Fukushima Disaster Area

TAMURA, Japan - For the first time since Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster more than three years ago, residents of a small district 12 miles from the wrecked plant are about to be allowed to return home.

The Miyakoji area of Tamura, a northeastern city inland from the Fukushima nuclear station, has been off-limits for most residents since March 2011, when the government ordered evacuations after a devastating earthquake and tsunami triggered a triple meltdown at the power plant.

Tuesday's reopening of Miyakoji will mark a tiny step for Japan as it seeks to recover from the Fukushima disaster and a major milestone for the 357 registered residents of the district - most of whom the city hopes will go back.

But homesick evacuees have mixed feelings about returning to Miyakoji, set amid rolling hills and rice paddies, a sign of how difficult the path back to normality will be for those forced from their homes by the accident. Many families with young children are torn over what to do, one city official acknowledged. "Young people won't return," said Kitaro Saito, a man in his early 60s, who opposed lifting the ban and had no intention of going home yet.

Saito said he wanted to go back to his large hillside house in Miyakoji, but thinks the government is using residents as "guinea pigs" to test whether larger returns are possible.

The 2011 crisis forced more than 160,000 people from towns near the Fukushima plant to evacuate. Around a third of them are still living in temporary housing scattered over Fukushima prefecture, their lives on hold as they wait for Japan to complete decontamination work.

- Reuters