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Japan to partially lift evacuation order for one of towns hosting Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant

AFP-JIJI, Kyodo

Japan will for the first time next month partially lift an evacuation order for one of the two towns where the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant is located, officials said Tuesday.

The government plans to lift the order for part of the town of Okuma on April 10, Cabinet Office official Yohei Ogino said.

It will be the first time the government has lifted an evacuation order within the towns — Okuma and Futaba — that host the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Okuma Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe described the decision as a “very welcome move,” a town official said.

“We will be able to take the first step forward (toward reconstruction) eight years later,” the official quoted Watanabe as saying.

In March 2011, a massive tsunami caused by an earthquake slammed into Japan — killing at least 15,897 and leaving more than 2,500 unaccounted for — setting off the worst nuclear accident in a generation.

The government has lifted evacuation orders across much of the region affected by the meltdown, allowing residents to return, as Tokyo has pursued an aggressive decontamination program involving removing radioactive topsoil and cleaning affected areas. But not everyone has been convinced, with a poll conducted in February by the Asahi Shimbun and Fukushima local broadcaster KFB finding that 60 percent of Fukushima Prefecture residents still felt anxious about radiation.

No one is officially recorded as having died as a direct result of the radiation from the accident, but last year the government for the first time acknowledged the death from cancer of a man involved in the cleanup.

More than 3,700 people — most of them from Fukushima — have died from illness or suicide linked to the aftermath of the tragedy, according to government data. The evacuation order will remain in place for so-called difficult-to-return zones still registering high radiation levels. As of the end of February, only 374 people were registered as residents of the difficult-to-return zones.

“People have the freedom to go back if they want to, but personally I am against living in areas where there are no children and no places to work,” said a 72-year-old man, who has relocated to the nearby city of Iwaki.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen when they remove (nuclear) debris” at the crippled plant, he added.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, the Matsuyama District Court ordered the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. to pay a combined ¥27 million ($245,300) in damages to more than 20 people who fled from their hometowns due to the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The ruling marked the 10th straight loss for Tepco among about 30 similar damages suits filed across Japan against the government and the utility.

The district court awarded payments to 23 of the 25 plaintiffs, who had sought a total of ¥137.5 million in damages. In the wake of the nuclear disaster, they evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture to Ehime Prefecture, where the court is located. The plaintiffs, age 1 to 64, claimed the government and the power company had failed to take proper steps to prevent the nuclear plant from being destroyed even though they were capable of foreseeing a potential disaster by 2006 based on official assessments of major earthquake and tsunami dangers.

They said the compensation they had received from the utility is not enough given that the nuclear crisis has separated families and destroyed community ties. They each demanded ¥5.5 million for their psychological suffering and financial losses, including costs for moving.

As of the end of February, around 52,000 people remain displaced because of evacuation orders or because they are unwilling to return, according to Japan’s Reconstruction Agency.