OKUMA, Fukushima Pref.: Japan lifted an evacuation order Thursday morning for a part of Okuma, a town in the northeastern prefecture of Fukushima, that had been in place since the March 2011 nuclear accident.
This is the first removal of an evacuation order for difficult-to-return zones in municipalities hosting Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s <9501> Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, which suffered the triple reactor meltdown following a massive earthquake and tsunami.
The removal of an evacuation order paves the way for former residents to return. Among difficult-to-return zones in Fukushima, an evacuation order was first removed for the village of Katsurao on June 12.
“We’ve finally made it to the starting line, but hard work will begin from now,” Okuma Mayor Jun Yoshida told reporters. “We won’t rebuild the area exactly as it was before the disaster. We’ll build a new town in creative ways,” he said.
The evacuation order was removed Thursday for some 860 hectares of Okuma, which has been designated as a specified reconstruction zone, including an area around JR Ono Station, which was the center of the town before the nuclear accident, and the Shimonogami residential district.
The town now plans to establish industrial exchange and welfare facilities and invite private companies. An evacuation order was lifted for the station and nearby roads in March 2020 in line with the full resumption of the Joban rail line.
Immediately after the nuclear accident, all of some 11,500 Okuma residents were ordered to evacuate. Administrative functions were also moved out of the town. In April 2019, the evacuation order was first lifted for areas other than difficult-to-return zones.
The town designated the Ogawara district, some 4 kilometers southwest of Ono Station, where radiation levels are relatively low, as an area undergoing reconstruction intensively, building a new municipal office and a commercial complex.
In the specified reconstruction zone, the town started cultivating rice in 2020 on a trial basis as part of efforts to resume farming, a core industry for the town’s economy.
But some residents say the soil that had been cultivated over generations has been lost due to decontamination work, expressing concerns over crops and harmful rumors related to radioactive contamination.
According to the town, 925 residents were living in Okuma as of Monday. The town aims to increase the population in the reconstruction zone to 2,600 in five years.
Specified reconstruction zones were created in six Fukushima municipalities.
For a reconstruction zone in the town of Futaba, which co-hosts the nuclear plant, when an evacuation order will be lifted is expected to be shown shortly.
The towns of Namie and Tomioka and the village of Iitate hope to see the evacuation order for their reconstruction zones removed in spring next year.