The government on Wednesday proposed lifting by around mid-August the evacuation order for one of the towns in Fukushima Prefecture that has stood empty since the nuclear crisis began in 2011.
Most of the town of Naraha sits within 20 km of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, but radiation cleanup efforts have been under way in a bid to return around 7,500 residents to their homes.
Naraha is one of 10 remaining municipalities still subject to evacuation orders. The government estimated as of last October that about 79,000 people were unable to return to their homes.
The proposal for Nahara came after the government decided recently to lift all evacuation orders by March 2017 except for areas radiation levels are expected to remain high.
The government told the Naraha Municipal Assembly on Wednesday that it hopes to lift the evacuation order by the mid-August Bon holidays. Yosuke Takagi, senior vice industry minister who is dealing with nuclear disaster issues added that the government does not intend to "force" residents to return home.
"Whether to return is up to each person. . . . Even if we lift the order, we want to continue working substantially on measures to rebuild Nahara," he said.
A local assembly member said the plan to lift the order by Bon was "abrupt," while another member pointed out that the town has not recovered to a point where people can return without worrying about food safety or their homes.
As part of preparations, residents have already been allowed to enter the town and stay there for short periods, officials said.