TOKYO: The Japanese government on Tuesday lifted its nuclear evacuation order for part of Futaba, a town in the northeastern prefecture of Fukushima, allowing people to live there for the first time since the March 2011 nuclear disaster.
Futaba, one of the two host towns of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s tsunami-crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, was the last remaining Fukushima municipality entirely under the evacuation order.
The evacuation order now covers 85 percent of the town.
Meanwhile, only 10 percent of Futaba’s former residents wish to return to the town, according to a survey conducted mainly by the Reconstruction Agency.
On Tuesday, the evacuation order was removed for a “reconstruction base” zone around Futaba Station on East Japan Railway Co.’s Joban Line. The area totals around 5.55 square kilometers, accounting for some 10 percent of the town. Before the nuclear accident, the area with shopping streets and facilities including a library was the center of the town.
A public housing facility and clinics will be developed on the western side of the station, and the town government’s new building will be built on the eastern side.
The town will also test rice growing, with the aim of restarting farming in 2025.
Futaba had some 7,100 residents before the nuclear disaster. But as of Friday, only 85 people from 52 households had registered with a preparatory lodging program in the town, which started in January this year.
As many evacuees have decided not to return to Futaba, the town aims to have 2,000 residents five years later. But it is uncertain whether the town will be able to achieve even this goal.
Another challenge for the town is having the evacuation order lifted for areas other than the reconstruction base zone. The Japanese government plans to conduct a survey of former residents of such areas by the end of the year and launch decontamination work in fiscal 2024 on a priority basis, reflecting the results of the survey.
Reconstruction base zones have been designated in six municipalities in Fukushima. Outside Futaba, the evacuation order was lifted for such zones in the village of Katsurao and the town of Okuma in June, and are slated to be removed in the towns of Namie and Tomioka and the village of Iitate next spring.