An NHK survey shows that Fukushima Prefecture residents who voluntarily evacuated due mainly to the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, are gradually returning to their homes.
About 146,000 residents of Fukushima Prefecture are still evacuees.
NHK surveyed all 59 municipalities in the prefecture to find the number of voluntary evacuees. These people are mainly from other places than the area surrounding the disabled Fukushima plant, where the authorities issued mandatory orders and recommendations for evacuation. They also include people whose homes were destroyed by the March 2011 quake and tsunami.
The survey found that nearly 49,000 such evacuees were living in and outside the prefecture as of August. The figure was down more than 4,000 from a year earlier.
Support group workers say that many of the voluntary evacuees are mothers and children.
The workers say some evacuees may have returned home because of the financial difficulty of maintaining 2 households when fathers stayed in their hometowns.
The workers also say others may be feeling more secure about life in their hometowns after the authorities completed decontamination procedures.
But some of the mothers who returned have moved out of the prefecture again, citing fears about radiation. They also said they felt guilty and isolated from local residents after a period of voluntary evacuation.
One support worker says there is a need to create places and opportunities so that evacuees who have returned and those who stayed at home can mingle and understand each other.