FUKUSHIMA – The town of Hirono, located about 30 km south of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, is exploring the possibility of becoming a community for both its traditional residents and workers at the crippled facility.
Many residents who fled the town have yet to return, even though its designation as an evacuation preparation area was lifted six months after the nuclear crisis started.
Of some 5,000 people registered as residents of Hirono, only 1,352 were actually living there as of Monday. Many of its supermarkets have gone out of business and restaurants remain closed.
However, men in work clothes are a common sight. According to a survey by the municipal government, the number of workers at the plant who live in dormitories or other accommodations in the town came to some 2,500 in October 2013, up sharply from around 1,000 in June 2012.
The owner of a convenience store said that the number of shoppers per day is up 500 from before the disaster and that daily sales have risen 1.5-fold.
Last month, the local government announced plans to launch a project by the end of March to develop land in the northern part of the town as a residential area for people working at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s nuclear plant.
But at a meeting to discuss the town’s reconstruction program, residents were divided over the plan to accept plant workers. One said it would help revitalize the local economy, while another said, “That would make it difficult to let children play outside.”
The nuclear plant employees are under a great deal of stress, working amid fears of radiation exposure. At night, drunken workers are sometimes seen quarreling with each other.
An evacuee now living in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, said he is hesitant to return to Hirono. “I am too scared to walk outside at night,” said the man, who is in his 60s.
A 43-year-old male worker at the power station meanwhile complained that he and his colleagues are portrayed only in a bad light, even though their efforts to decommission the stricken plant are an important part of the region’s reconstruction.