NARAHA, Fukushima Prefecture–The people of Naraha, a town that was evacuated after the disaster at the nearby Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, will be allowed to return home Sept. 5, the government said.
It will be the first among seven municipalities to have an evacuation order for all residents lifted since the meltdowns at the plant in March 2011.
The central government notified Naraha officials July 6 that it had fixed the date. Mayor Yukiei Matsumoto accepted the plan, saying the town will help residents resettle.
The removal of the evacuation order is aimed at “accelerating the town’s recovery” from the nuclear disaster, said Yosuke Takagi, state minister of economy, trade and industry, during a meeting with Matsumoto.
Takagi, who heads the on-site headquarters of the nuclear disaster response task force, said the government believes that radioactive contamination in the town is “not dangerous enough to continue forcing evacuation on residents who want to return home.”
He also pointed out that prolonged evacuation will have a negative impact on residents’ health and will deprive the town of recovery opportunities if private businesses are prevented from starting up in the area.
The lifting of the evacuation order for Nahara will be the first case among the seven municipalities in which almost all the residents as well as municipal governments were forced to evacuate.
The majority of the town’s 7,400 residents currently live in temporary housing and publicly subsidized apartments in other parts of Fukushima Prefecture or elsewhere. They will be allowed to return home permanently once the evacuation order is removed.
Even after the evacuation order is lifted, residents can remain living in the temporary shelters and other dwellings where they currently reside rent-free until March 2017.
Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the crippled plant, has also pledged to continue paying compensation to all residents until at least March 2018.
On June 17, Takagi had proposed lifting the evacuation order before the Bon holiday period in mid-August, but this plan was opposed by local officials and residents who argued that not enough had been done to restore the town’s environment.
The central government pushed back the date to Sept. 5, assessing the government’s efforts have met three criteria necessary to lift the evacuation order: lower airborne radiation, improved infrastructure and administrative services, and a sufficient consultation period for residents and the local authority to discuss the situation with central government officials.