Fukushima comes out to play

More than a year after the nuclear disaster, swimmers are allowed back into the sea

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After more than a year away, swimmers in Fukushima prefecture were allowed to return to the sea this week for the first time since disaster struck at the Japanese nuclear plant.

All of Fukushima's 17 beaches were closed last year to protect the public from radiation contamination. A massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 wrecked the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, triggering meltdowns that contaminated food and water and forced mass evacuations.

Now, authorities have opened one of the beaches after declaring the water there to be safe.

There was little sign of trepidation on Monday, when around a thousand people descended on Nakoso beach, which lies just 40 miles south of the site of the disaster. "The water's still cold, but it's going to be a good season," Yukiei Hakozaki, a local guide, told Kyodo News. "We want lots of people to come."

Local officials said radiation detected in the water at the beach was negligible. Airborne radiation was measured at 0.08 microsieverts an hour, far below dangerous levels.

The opening of the beach marks a milestone in the country's slow return to normality following the worst nuclear accident in its history. The disaster has deeply divided Japan, which had been previously bullish on nuclear technology.

Those fears were articulated in Tokyo, where tens of thousands of people rallied demanding that the Japanese government abandon nuclear power on the same day the beach reopened.