Devise path to future improvement of disaster-stricken areas in Fukushima Pref.

Eleven years have passed since the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, and reconstruction is progressing in disaster-stricken areas in Fukushima Prefecture. It is necessary to draw up clear plans for how affected municipalities will be rebuilt in the future.

An evacuation order has been lifted in parts of central Futaba, a town that all residents had to evacuate from following the 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that triggered the nuclear accident. As radiation levels were high in almost all areas of the town, which hosted the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Futaba has become the last Fukushima municipality to which residents are allowed to return.

On Sept. 5, administrative work began in Futaba’s new town office. Evacuation orders issued for 11 municipalities in the prefecture have gradually been lifted in the years since the disaster. Now, people are able to live in all of those municipalities.

Futaba had about 7,000 residents before the accident. But in a survey last fiscal year, only about 10% of the town’s displaced residents said they wanted to return.

It is probably not realistic for many former residents to return to their hometown as many of them have established a foundation for their lives in the areas they moved to, such as taking jobs.

The town has set a goal of having about 2,000 residents by around 2030. However, many of the former residents who want to return are elderly. The key will be not only the return of former residents but also how to increase the number of new residents.

Futaba has been attracting businesses with state subsidies. As a result, 24 companies plan to move into an industrial complex in the town. A towel manufacturer in Gifu Prefecture has jointly developed a Futaba-brand towel with the municipality and is selling the product online and by other means.

It is important to strategically develop industries and create jobs.

In addition to public housing for returnees, the town has prepared housing for new residents. But there are still no supermarkets or convenience stores in Futaba. There is an urgent need to improve the living environment.

Population decrease is a common issue in the surrounding areas. In the neighboring town of Okuma, the residential population is only 6% of the pre-disaster level, and it is only 7% in the town of Namie. The accelerated aging of the population and depopulation are serious issues.

Before the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, these areas cooperated extensively in garbage disposal and firefighting, among other things. In the future, they need to share hospitals and schools and work on streamlining their administrative functions.

The Fukushima Innovation Coast Framework, a national project aiming to court cutting-edge industries, is underway in coastal areas of the prefecture. It is hoped that this will attract researchers from Japan and abroad and lead to the vitalization of the region.

Many former residents say they cannot return but want to be involved with their hometown. It is necessary to devise ways to encourage them to play a role in town development, such as by reviving local festivals.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 9, 2022)