Kazue Yoshimura waited at the evacuation site until around noon today before deciding she couldn't stand it.
Never mind the radiation warnings. Never mind the fact that her house was just across the street from the site of what the morning newspapers were calling Japan's worst nuclear accident. Her dog, a brown mutt named Ryu, was back there, locked in the house alone.
And so this afternoon, a little more than 24 hours after the accident at a uranium processing plant that left three workers severely injured, exposed dozens more to dangerous levels of radiation and focused the whole nation on its Faustian bargain with nuclear power, Kazue Yoshimura tiptoed past the orange cones to make sure that Ryu had enough to eat.
"I know, I shouldn't have," she shrugged a few hours later, surrounded by some of the more than 80 other residents forced to relocate to the village community center a mile away from the immediate vicinity of the accident. "But he looked so sad, barking away there all by himself. I said, 'Ryu-chan, I'm really sorry.' Then I came right back."
If Yoshimura seemed blase about the prospect of living next door to a fluke nuclear chain reaction, she was hardly the only resident of this coastal village to feel that way. Other evacuees also crept back to retrieve clothes or bedding. A few high school students acknowledged returning to the scene this afternoon to see what all the fuss was about.
"They said it was blocked to traffic, but you could get in," said one. "There weren't any police."
Several of the families in the community center groused about the ordeal. But most appeared to take the accident in stride. There was little panic. Virtually no one demanded closure of JCO Co., where the accident occurred. Indeed, many residents seemed more indignant about the swarm of reporters and TV camera crews that had descended upon their normally quiet village than about the accident itself.
The muted reaction in Tokaimura reflects the complexity of attitudes throughout this archipelago when it comes to nuclear matters. As citizens of the only nation to suffer an atomic bomb attack, most Japanese deplore nuclear weapons, a frame of mind they describe as "nuclear allergy." But the allergy does not extend to nuclear energy, which is widely accepted here as an alternative to oil and gas. Nuclear power supplies one-third of Japan's electricity.
Residents of Tokaimura are particularly tolerant of Japan's high reliance on nuclear power because it is the area's most important industry. There are at least 15 major nuclear energy-related facilities in this area.
At least a third of Tokaimura's 12,000 households depend on the nuclear energy industry for their livelihood, according to Hiroshi Haginoya, the deputy mayor.
"Of course, there's concern about the risks. But there is also a real sense of pride--a feeling that we are working to satisfy the energy needs of the entire country," said Haginoya. "We worked hard to get these plants. . . . Now they're a part of our community."
Fujio Ichikawa, a lecturer in radiochemistry at Tokyo's Meiji University, offered a more complicated account of the nuclear energy industry's development in Tokaimura.
The village was a sparsely populated farming town until 1956, when the government chose it as the site of a major national nuclear energy research laboratory, Ichikawa said.
"The local residents were pretty worried about the dangers at first," said Ichikawa, who worked for more than 30 years as a researcher at the initial facility. "But the government said, don't worry, it's just a lab, and so they went along."
Other government facilities followed, then private research centers and processing plants.
Although officials today urged residents within 500 yards of the plant not to return to their houses for one more night, lights were burning in windows in at least a dozen homes within the perimeter by nightfall. Other areas were declared safe.
Tokaimura's other big employer, electronics giant Hitachi Ltd., resumed operations at its 12 manufacturing plants following the all-clear. All train schedules had returned to normal by 4 p.m.
At Chiroru Village, a small restaurant within about a mile of the accident, the proprietor boasted that he had been open since 11:30 a.m., just like any other day. But he conceded things were a little slow; at the dinner hour, a single customer hunched over his fried pork cutlet.
Special correspondent Akiko Kashiwagi contributed to this report.