Evacuation orders lifted for three more Fukushima areas but residents slow to return

JIJI

Japan on Friday lifted its evacuation orders for the village of Iitate and two other areas that had been enforced due to the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station.

The move came six years after Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s power station suffered meltdowns after the huge earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, triggering evacuation orders in many places in Fukushima Prefecture, including Iitate and the other two areas.

Residents of Iitate, the town of Namie and the Yamakiya district in the town of Kawamata, totaling some 22,100 at the end of February, can now return home, except in a handful of places included in no-go zones where radiation levels are still too high.

With the evacuation order set to be removed for the town of Tomioka on Saturday, Okuma and Futaba, the host towns of the crippled power station, will be the only Fukushima municipalities without an area where an evacuation order has been lifted.

Meanwhile, municipalities where evacuation orders have been removed have their own problems: a slow return of residents.

The central government and affected municipalities have channeled their efforts into improving commercial facilities, transportation systems and other infrastructure, hoping to attract residents, old and new.

In Tomioka, a ¥2.4 billion emergency hospital will be created, reflecting strong calls for medical institutions.

The return of residents has remained slow, however, with many returnees being elderly. In the five municipalities whose evacuation orders had already been lifted, only 14.5 percent of residents came back.

In Iitate, Namie and Kawamata’s Yamakiya district, the share of residents who said they want to go back to their hometowns in joint surveys mainly by the Reconstruction Agency stood at 33.5 percent, 13.4 percent and 43.9 percent, respectively.

The central government will begin work to revive areas in the no-go zones spanning seven municipalities. According to the government’s plan, each of the seven will have a reconstruction base for work to decontaminate local areas tainted with radioactive substances from the Tepco power station and build infrastructure.

Decontamination costs will be borne by the central government. It aims to lift evacuation orders in the no-go zones within about five years.

“The government is resolved to fully lift the evacuation orders (in the no-go zones), even if it takes a long time,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has recently said.

But a concrete path to the goal is not in sight.