FUKUSHIMA – The town of Naraha in Fukushima Prefecture celebrated Saturday, following the midnight lifting of the government’s evacuation order 4½ years after the eruption of the March 2011 nuclear disaster.
Naraha became the first of seven radiation-tainted municipalities in the prefecture to be entirely cleared for repopulation since the triple-reactor meltdown following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
“The clock that was stopped has now begun to tick,” Naraha Mayor Yukiei Matsumoto said at a ceremony held to promote the early return of local residents as well as the reconstruction of their hometown.
About 100 people took part in the event, including central government officials.
Most of the town is within the 20-km no-go zone set up around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, which spewed radiation into the air and sea after the earthquake-triggered tsunami knocked its power out, prompting the meltdowns.
Naraha is “at the starting line at last,” Matsumoto told reporters early Saturday, adding that he would continue working toward reconstruction.
Naraha had a registered population of 7,368 residing in 2,694 households as of Tuesday. According to a survey by the government and others, some 46 percent of the residents hope to return.
But only a portion is expected to return immediately, including 780 in some 350 households who were cleared for long-term stays.
The central and town governments will reopen a medical clinic in the town in October, while a new prefectural clinic is slated to be built as early as February.
To handle sudden illnesses among the elderly, medical services will be boosted, such as by distributing emergency buzzers to people who need them.
To meet requests for shopping services, a supermarket in the town launched free delivery in July. A publicly built, privately run shopping center with a supermarket and do-it-yourself store is due in fiscal 2016.
To address lingering radiation concerns, dosimeters will be handed out and 24-hour monitoring will be conducted at a water filtration plant. Also, tap water will be tested at households worried about radioactive contamination.