East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) announced July 28 it will resume regular train runs Dec. 10 on another stretch of the Joban Line damaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan. To be reopened is a 22.6-kilometer portion between Soma Station in Soma city, Fukushima Prefecture, and Hamayoshida Station in Watari town, Miyagi Prefecture.
It follows the resumption of train services on a 9.4-kilometer stretch of the line between Odaka and Haranomachi stations in Minamisoma city on July 12 when an evacuation order was lifted in most parts of the Fukushima Prefecture city hit by the tsunami-caused nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. The Soma-Hamayoshida link will thus connect Minamisoma’s Odaka district to the Miyagi prefectural capital Sendai by rail.
The Soma-Hamayoshida stretch includes an 18.2-kilometer route between Komagamine Station in Shinchi town and Hamayoshida, with tracks for 14.6 kilometers of the route moved inland from an area close to the coastline. The Shinchi Station structure that was washed away by the tsunami is being rebuilt at a location about 300 meters southwest. The route was initially scheduled to reopen in the spring of 2017 but the date for resumption has been moved up following faster-than-expected progress in land purchases.
The last suspended stretch, from Tatsuta Station in Naraha town to Odaka Station, will remain closed for the present due to its location close to the crippled nuclear plant but JR East plans to reopen it gradually by the end of fiscal 2019 on March 31, 2020.
The central government has unveiled a plan to begin temporary home stays on Aug. 21 at the homes of evacuated residents in Tomioka town, south of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant of Tokyo Electric Power Co. in Fukushima Prefecture. The plan, disclosed at a meeting of all town assembly members on July 22, will be limited to a zone preparing to lift an evacuation order and a residency-restricted zone. The government is seeking to remove both zones as early as next April.
The proposed temporary home stay scheme will replace the special lodging system that began on July 23 in line with the start of a summer vacation at schools. The government also told the meeting, held at a temporary town branch office in Koriyama city, it will specify by the turn of the year when the evacuation zones will be lifted, except for a “difficult-to-return” zone.
In the two zones, decontamination work has been almost completed in residential areas. Two convenience stores have opened, and a municipal clinic is scheduled to begin medical services in October. The town’s expert committee discussing the permanent return of residents announced on July 21 that “minimum municipal functions necessary for daily living are expected to be restored by the end of fiscal 2016.” Given the situation, the government has concluded that it is possible to implement preparatory home stays.
At the meeting, government officials said plans are on the table to set up temporary accommodation for evacuees returning under the preparatory lodging scheme and introduce mobile shops. Some assembly members called for the full resumption of the Futaba Police Station’s main office in Tomioka, currently reopened partially, to help dispel anxiety over public safety among townspeople, while others requested the display of a town radiation dosage map, including “hot spots” where radiation levels are high.
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The Environment Ministry is set to have completed by the end of fiscal 2017 through March 2018 the demolition of dilapidated residences in 11 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture where residents have been evacuated since the 2011 nuclear accident, according to ministry officials. It was the first time that the ministry has specified the date for completing work to dismantle evacuated houses in accordance with requests from residents.
The national government has made clear its policy to lift evacuation orders in all the affected municipalities by next March except for areas where permanent returns are deemed difficult due to still high levels of radiation from nuclear fallout stemming from the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. Against that background, the ministry sees the need to accelerate the demolition work, step up the restoration of a living environment and pave the way for the homecoming of evacuees.
Covered by the ministry project are the cities of Tamura and Minamisoma, the towns of Kawamata, Naraha, Tomioka, Okuma, Futaba and Namie, and the villages of Kawauchi, Katsurao and Iitate. Evacuees had applied for the demolition of about 8,800 houses as of June this year. Of the total, residences in Tamura and Kawauchi have been dismantled, leaving some 5,600 others yet to be demolished, according to the ministry.
Demolition work is to be finished by the end of fiscal 2016 on a total of 2,230 houses in Minamisoma, Naraha and Katsurao, where the removal of evacuation zones has made progress, and on 400 homes in Futaba, Okuma and Kawamata, where the number of demolition applications is relatively small. The ministry is set to accomplish demolition of 2,970 residences by fiscal 2017 in Namie, Tomioka and Iitate, where applications are in excess of 1,000 each.
The Fukushima prefectural government has decided to extend the current rent-free housing program for evacuees from the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster for another year until the end of March 2018. The decision was taken on July 15 at a meeting of the prefecture’s task force for the promotion of post-disaster reconstruction held at the prefectural government office in Fukushima city.
Under the program, evacuees are provided free of charge with temporary public housing built for them or with leased private-sector accommodation. Subject to the scheme are evacuated residents in 10 municipalities which have evacuation zones set up after the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant or where evacuation orders have been lifted. But the town of Naraha, one of the municipalities, has chosen not to extend the program and will instead consider whether to continue offering free housing on an individual basis depending on progress in the acquisition of permanent homes.
The decision to prolong the program for the fifth time was based on the prefectural government’s judgment that it needs to be extended for another year because of differences in the timing of the evacuation order being lifted and progress in the construction of permanent public housing for evacuees as well as progress in the building and repair of homes.
The 10 municipalities covered by the program are the whole areas of five towns — Naraha, Tomioka, Okuma, Futaba and Namie — and two villages — Katsurao and Iitate — as well as limited areas of Minamisoma city, Kawamata town and Kawauchi village. In Minamisoma, the program applies only to evacuees from “difficult-to-return” and “residency-restricted” zones plus a zone preparing for the lifting of the evacuation order. In Kawamata, it applies to those from residency-restricted and preparation zones while in Kawauchi, it covers evacuees from the Kainosaka and Hagi areas of the Shimokawauchi district.
The prefectural government is to consider whether to extend the program again beyond March 2018 for nine of the municipalities, except for Naraha, while watching how soon the evacuation order will be removed.
Regular train service resumed on a 9.4-kilometer stretch of East Japan Railway’s Joban Line in Minamisoma city on July 12 after being suspended for five years and four months since the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. The reopening of the railway line between Haranomachi and Odaka stations was timed with the day’s lifting of an evacuation order in most parts of the city.
A ceremony marking the resumed service was held at Haranomachi Station ahead of the first train’s departure at 7:15 a.m. Minamisoma Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai and other officials delivered speeches at the ceremony, and boarded the train together with passengers who had long waited for trains to start running again.
The inaugural train arrived at Odaka Station around 7:30 a.m. Local residents cheered as a crowd of passengers disembarked. Nine ordinary train runs are operated a day on northbound and southbound lines each.