Japan lifted an evacuation order Sunday morning for a part of a district in Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan, that had been in place since the March 2011 nuclear disaster.
The area in the Noyuki district in the village of Katsurao, designated as a specified reconstruction and revitalization base, is expected to become the first area in the so-called difficult-to-return zone to host permanent residents again.
The lifting of the evacuation order will allow residents to live in the area without notifying authorities.
At 8 a.m. (11 p.m. Saturday GMT), roadblocks that had been set up at 36 locations in the district were removed and entry restrictions were lifted.
However, challenges remain for the area’s reconstruction. As over 11 years have passed since the nuclear disaster, most of the houses in the area have been dismantled and many residents have settled in other parts of the country where they had been evacuated.
According to the village, 82 people of 32 households are registered as residents in the area where the evacuation order was lifted Sunday. But a 2020 survey found that only eight people from four households wished to return.
Immediately after the triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, caused by the March 2011 major earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan, all Katsurao residents were ordered to evacuate.
The evacuation order was lifted for most of the village in June 2016. But the Noyuki district, which has an area of some 1,600 hectares and occupies some 20 pct of the village, remained designated as the difficult-to-return zone due to high radiation levels.
In 2017, the central government launched a project to realize the return of residents by intensively conducting decontamination work and developing infrastructures in some areas designated as reconstruction and revitalization bases.
The project covered some 95 hectares of the Noyuki district in northeastern Katsurao from May 2018.
In late November last year, the village started a preparatory stay program in the reconstruction base in the run-up to the permanent return of residents.
Last month, the state and village governments agreed to lift the evacuation order for the area on Sunday as radiation levels fell thanks to the decontamination work and roads and other infrastructures have been developed.
Six other municipalities in Fukushima also host specified reconstruction bases. Of them, the towns of Futaba and Okuma hope that evacuation orders will be lifted for those areas this month or later and between late June and early July, respectively.
Evacuations orders are planned to be lifted next spring for such bases in the towns of Namie and Tomioka and the village of Iitate.
In the difficult-to-return zone other than the reconstruction bases, the central government aims to realize the return of residents within the 2020s.