“Will Tomioka go back to how it was before?” Looking at the results of a survey, Kazuyoshi Kamata, vice head of the Yonomori Station northern administrative district in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, reflects on his hometown and its reconstruction following the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant triple meltdown in 2011.
In the surveys conducted by the Reconstruction Agency last fall, Tomioka residents listed important conditions in deciding whether they would return to their hometown or not, such as the reopening and construction of new medical, welfare and elder care facilities as well as the resumption and improvement of shopping complexes.
One condition that stands out among the list, though, is a further reduction in the amount of radiation, which 1 in 3 residents raised as an important issue. The government has been decontaminating specially designated areas, where it was once thought that settlement was limited for good but which can be reopened for residents. It has set the annual radiation exposure limit to be lower than 20 millisieverts as one of the standards to lift the evacuation orders.
Now that nearly 10 years have passed since the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, Kamata stressed the need for the government to decontaminate the area under stricter standards so that residents will feel safer returning to their hometown.
“In order to maintain people’s feelings for their hometowns, I want (the government) to stick to the stance of rebuilding our Tomioka in the form that we all want, including restoring the (basic living) environment.”
Tomioka’s Yonomori district used to be bustling with an increasing population, said Kamata, adding that younger generations supported the local community by planning events utilizing a famous row of cherry blossom trees and developing agriculture centered around rice crops.
“The district was a place full of energy where everyone, regardless of generation, was involved in making the local community,” said Kamata.
At the Yonomori cherry blossom festival held in spring, for example, smiles spread among residents as children strolled around, and the event also featured a mikoshi, or Shinto palanquin, from Otoshi Shrine.
The government is also doing its part in reconstructing the specially designated area in Tomioka by establishing zones focused on revitalizing businesses and agriculture. With creating agricultural corporations and making use of tourism resources such as roadside cherry blossom trees as the two main pillars, the government is working to attract about 1,600 people to live there, which is 40% of the population before the accident.
In the meantime, residents have been raising concerns about the 20 millisieverts condition, demanding a higher standard and more decontamination. In places that have recorded higher radiation levels, it is expected there will be damage from harmful rumors about things including tourism and agriculture.
“Without people, reconstruction would not begin. Creating conditions to invite more people without concerns is of utmost importance,” said Kamata, arguing that alongside other areas, restoring the living environment, including decontamination with the aim of lowering the annual radiation exposure to 1 millisevert or less, will be needed for future generations to live in Yonomori.
“Once the evacuation order is lifted, I want the local community to regain its connections within (the district),” said Kamata, hoping to take on a role of handing down the district’s traditions and way of life, as well as traditional scenery, to younger generations once he returns. As a vice-head of the administrative district, though, Kamata also intends to communicate crucial issues to the local government while residing in the area.
The lifting of the evacuation order in the specially designated area is expected in the spring of 2023, 12 years after the order was first issued.
“Without tackling issues such as restoring the living environment and infrastructure, as well as decommissioning of the Fukushima No.1 plant in a diligent manner, people won’t come back,” said Kamata. Now he hopes the government will share his passion for the hometown’s rebuilding.
This section features topics and issues covered by the Fukushima Minpo, the prefecture’s largest newspaper. The original article was published Jan. 12.
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