TOKYO – The Japanese government announced on Tuesday that the evacuation order in force from 2011 in one of the two neighboring municipalities where the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station is located will partially be lifted in early April.
Radiation levels in Okuma town have decreased significantly and the evacuation order will be lifted on April 10 from two districts covering around 40 percent of the town, said the Japanese State Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, Yoshihiko Isozaki, according to public broadcaster NHK.
A total of 374 people, or 3.6 percent of the population of the town about 260 kilometers (160 miles) from Tokyo, have registered addresses in the districts where the evacuation orders will be lifted.
Okuma evacuated its approximately 10,000 residents after the devastating earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, which triggered the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daichii plant – the second-worst incident of its kind in history after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.
The Okuma town hall has been operating 100 kilometers away in a temporary facility, but a new one will open in one of the districts on April 14 and begin operations on May 7.
Fukushima prefecture vice-governor Masaaki Suzuki said this is just the beginning of construction and it is important to have facilities in place so residents who return can feel safe, NHK said.
It is not clear how many residents will return, given the reluctance shown in other locations where residents have been allowed to return to the affected areas. This has been either due to the ongoing fear of radiation or because they have re-established their lives in other cities.
Okuma hosts most of the facilities of the destroyed plant, which extends to the adjoining town of Futaba, where access is still prohibited.
Almost all of the three towns closest to plant, Okuma, Futaba and Namie (where the evacuation order was partially lifted in 2017) are designated as “difficult-to-return zones,” the most severe of the three categories established by Tokyo with regards to radiation levels.
According to a Greenpeace Japan report of March 2018, “the towns of Iitate and Namie in Fukushima prefecture, including the exclusion zone, revealed radiation levels up to 100 times higher than the international limit for public exposure.”