IITATE, Fukushima–Progress in rezoning evacuation areas contaminated with radioactive emissions has stalled, with the government’s new zoning system enacted in only four of the 11 municipalities surrounding the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
On Tuesday, the new zoning system was implemented in Iitate. The entire village had previously been designated as an expanded evacuation zone, but has now been divided into three areas based on contamination levels.
The government had initially planned to implement the new zoning system in all 11 municipalities by April 1. However, it remains unclear when the system will be introduced in the remaining seven municipalities.
Furthermore, the four municipalities where rezoning has been completed still face various difficulties, such as rebuilding residents’ livelihoods and ongoing decontamination work.
The new zoning system aims to intensively promote decontamination work in areas where radiation levels are relatively low and encourage residents to return home.
Areas previously classified as evacuation zones based on radiation and distance from the Fukushima No. 1 power plant have been sorted into three new zoning categories. Areas are classified after precisely measuring radiation levels.
Iitate Mayor Norio Kanno attended a ceremony to send off resident-organized patrol groups Tuesday. At the ceremony, Kanno said: “We’ve met a number of times to discuss how we should rebuild our city–even though each effort was small. I’ll continue to do my best so residents can return home as soon as possible.”
Most areas in Iitate were designated as either restricted residency zones, where residents will be able to return within several years, or zones being prepared for residents’ return, where residents may return as soon as decontamination is completed. However, the village’s Nagadoro district was designated a residency prohibited zone, and residents will not be able to return for at least five years.
Rezoning procedures in the village had been delayed after some residents objected to the government’s policy of differentiating compensation payments based on which zones residents lived in. Under the government’s plan, people living in zones being prepared for residents’ return would be paid 100,000 yen per month. However, people living in the other two zone types would be paid lump sums–2.4 million yen for those in restricted residency zones, and 6 million yen for those in residency prohibited zones.
Thanks to rezoning, industries and businesses that operate indoors, such as manufacturers and financial institutions, were allowed to return to work–except for those in the Nagadoro district.
“Reconstruction in the village would have been delayed even further without the new zoning system,” Kanno said.
Iitate’s main industries are livestock and agriculture, but many farmers have already given up their livelihoods. As a result, it will be difficult for the village to rebuild its economy and ensure that there are enough jobs for residents. According to a survey conducted by the village in May, 33.1 percent of respondents said they “did not have plans to return.”
About three months have passed since most areas in Minami-Soma city’s Odaka district were designated as zones being prepared for residents’ return. Since then, people have been allowed to freely enter those areas.
However, the water supply and sewage system have yet to be restored in the district, which was home to about 430 businesses before the Great East Japan Earthquake. Of that number, only eight have resumed operations, while 37 were preparing to reopen as of June 15. Twenty-four have decided to permanently close.
A 63-year-old man said he visits his home in Odaka district from Tochigi Prefecture, where he is now staying, to occasionally clean up. He said he refrains from drinking water while he is there because the nearest portable toilet–one of 21 built by the city–is about a kilometer away from his house.
The Minami-Soma municipal government said it is trying to restore the sewage system and water supplies. However, an official said, “We have no specific date for when these services will resume.”
The new zoning system was introduced in Kawauchi village on April 1. While middle and primary schools and day care centers have reopened in former emergency evacuation preparation zones, only 39 children–17 percent of the figure before the Great East Japan Earthquake–attend the facilities.
A 34-year-old woman living at a temporary house in Koriyama said she lost her job after the disaster. The woman, a mother of two, said she is hesitant to go back home. “My 8-year-old daughter begs for us to return home, but I don’t think I can find a new job in Kawauchi,” she said.
Criticisms on rezoning
Some residents in municipalities that have yet to be rezoned are critical of the fact that the new categories are based solely on radiation levels and ignore actual living conditions.
In Okuma, a town designated as a no-entry zone, 95 percent of the town, including the town center, government buildings, banking institutions and shopping areas, is expected to be classified as a residency prohibited zone. As the remaining areas are near the mountains and surrounded by residency prohibited zones, it is unlikely many people will return there.
“Even though we’re allowed to return to parts of our town, we would hardly be able to get everyday items. It would be difficult to live there,” Okuma Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe said. The town government plans not to return for at least five years.
The Futaba municipal government has asked the central government to designate the entire town as a residency prohibited zone, and hopes the town will be treated in a uniform fashion in all regards, including compensation payments.
“The reality is that we can’t live in the town anyway, even if there are some differences in radiation levels,” Futaba Mayor Katsutaka Idogawa said.
(Jul. 19, 2012)