Fukushima evacuees to go home for holiday season

TOKYO - Some Fukushima residents who fled their homes near the crippled Japanese nuclear plant are temporarily returning home during the New Year season, officials said Wednesday.

But fewer than 10 per cent of more than 27,000 people eligible for the temporary repatriation programme are taking part, amid fears of high radiation.

The government is allowing former residents of selected areas around the plant with relatively low radiation contamination to stay at their homes from Christmas Eve through January 7.

The programme covers 27,150 of many tens of thousands of Fukushima residents who were ordered by the government to evacuate after the meltdowns at the plant in March 2011.

They were allowed temporarily to return home after contamination levels in and around their houses registered lower than estimated, although the figure was still too high for continuous residence.

But only 1,701 people have registered to spend the holiday season at their homes, according to the Reconstruction Agency.

Many people opted not to return due to fears of radiation as well as unrepaired damage to their properties since the disaster.

A 9.0-magnitude quake struck off Japan's northeast coast in March 2011, triggering monster waves that swamped the nuclear plant's cooling systems, sparking reactor meltdowns and radiation leaks.

Tens of thousands of people are still unable to return to their homes in the area around the plant, with some settlements likely to be uninhabitable for decades.