The government has started preliminary work on determining how best to support rebuilding efforts in areas of northeastern Japan devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster when the Reconstruction Agency is abolished in March 2021, sources said Tuesday.

The government is currently talking with 12 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture, where a number of residents were forced to evacuate following the triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant. The goal is to find out what support the municipalities expect from the central government, officials said.

The government aims to establish a basic assistance policy by the end of March 2020, chiefly by determining the roles to be played by the organization that succeeds the agency, the officials said.

The agency was set up in February 2012 to guide the reconstruction effort — particularly in severely damaged areas in the three Tohoku prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima.

It now has some 520 staff to support those affected and promote business revitalization. It is also helping with the return of evacuees to their homes in Fukushima.

Legally, the agency cannot exist beyond March 2021, when the government-set reconstruction period for the disaster expires. But affected areas are still struggling. In Fukushima, evacuation advisories remain intact in some areas, prolonging recovery work even further.

The basic support policy and a blueprint for the successor organization will be finalized based on the results of the Fukushima survey, as well as talks with the Iwate and Miyagi prefectural governments and the central government, the officials said.

The government hopes to see necessary legislation pass the Diet in 2020, they added.

One likely scenario regarding the successor body is setting up a department at the Cabinet Office to mainly support reconstruction efforts. But there are calls for creating a government agency to take charge of disaster prevention and reconstruction across the country, critics have said.

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