National

Evacuees can return next week to parts of Okuma, host of Fukushima nuclear plant, but few likely to

Kyodo

The government formalized on Friday its decision to partially lift from next Wednesday a mandatory evacuation order for residents of a town that jointly hosts the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The town of Okuma — which saw all of its roughly 10,000 residents evacuate after one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters, triggered by a deadly earthquake and tsunami — will allow former residents to return for the first time in eight years, the government decided. The decision was said to be based on the lower radiation levels achieved through decontamination work.

Futaba, the other town that hosts the plant, remains a no-go zone.

Despite the decision, a very small number of residents are expected to return to Okuma. As of late March, only 367 people from 138 households, or around 3.5 percent of the original population of 10,341, were registered as residents of areas where the order will be lifted.

“Lifting the evacuation order is not the final goal. We will strive to restore a habitable environment for the population,” Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko said at a news conference.

There will be no restrictions in place over approximately 38 percent of the town’s total area, but the rest will remain off-limits due to higher radiation levels.

On March 11, 2011, a tsunami engulfed the six-reactor nuclear power plant located on the Pacific Coast, causing core meltdowns at reactors 1, 2 and 3 and hydrogen explosions at units 1, 3 and 4 in the days that followed and leading to the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

At the peak of the crisis some 160,000 people were evacuated from their homes in Fukushima Prefecture, and about 40,000 people remained displaced as of the end of March this year.