Most of Naraha is located within the 20-kilometer-radius evacuation zone surrounding the stricken plant. Even though the evacuation order was lifted at midnight for the entire town, there are lingering fears of radiation contamination and concerns over a lack of essentials that would allow residents to pick up the threads of their former lives.
Of the seven Fukushima municipalities where all residents were ordered to evacuate after the triple meltdown triggered by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, Naraha is the first one to have the evacuation order removed.
One evacuee who did return to his Naraha home was 68-year-old Fusao Sakamoto.
“Looking back, I feel my four-and-half-years as an evacuee was agonizingly long,” the landscape gardener said.
According to the town government, only 780 residents of 351 households, or just over 10 percent of the entire population, were registered at the end of August with the town’s program to allow them to stay overnight to prepare for permanent resettlement.
It was the third removal of an evacuation order among areas in the former no-go zone set within 20 km of the plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co.
The number of residents allowed to return home is the largest with the lifting of the Naraha evacuation order. It is expected to set a precedent for large-scale resettlement of Fukushima evacuees.
Almost all Naraha residents fled from their hometown on March 12, the day after the nuclear disaster unfolded. The Fukushima plant is located in the nearby towns of Okuma and Futaba.
Naraha was initially designated as a no-entry zone, which in principle prohibited residents from entering the town. But it was redesignated as a zone being prepared for the lifting of the evacuation order in August 2012, which meant that residents were allowed to enter the town during daytime hours.
With decontamination work and restoration of basic infrastructure largely completed, evacuees were allowed to return home for long-term stays in April to prepare for permanent resettlement.
On Sept. 5, the town government, which relocated its functions to Iwaki and other municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture, began to resume operations at the town office building in central Naraha.
“The clock has just started ticking again for our town with the lifting of the evacuation order after many months,” Mayor Yukiei Matsumoto told town officials. “We will accelerate efforts to achieve full recovery of the town.”
Source: Asahi Shimbun