Residents can stay in Fukushima town for 1st time since 2011 nuclear disaster

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A man turns on a light in his house in Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, on Thursday.

FUKUSHIMA — Some former residents have begun “preparatory stays” in Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, staying overnight for the first time since the 2011 nuclear disaster, as part of preparations to return there permanently.

Futaba is the last municipality to remain under full evacuation following the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant run by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc. After the disaster, most of the town was designated as a “difficult-to-return zone” where overnight stays were not allowed in principle.

A certain area within the difficult-to-return zone was later chosen by the central government as a “reconstruction base,” or key location for reconstruction and revitalization. Under the program begun on Thursday, former Futaba residents can stay overnight in the reconstruction base area, for which the evacuation instruction is scheduled to be lifted in June.

The evacuation instruction was lifted in March 2020 for limited areas covering about 220 hectares in Futaba, including JR Futaba Station and its surroundings. Entry restrictions were also eased for the adjacent reconstruction base, covering about 555 hectares, and work began to renovate infrastructure.

At the time of the nuclear disaster, 4,376 people, or 60% of the town population, lived in what is now the reconstruction base. Due to the prolonged evacuation, many houses there have been demolished.

As of Wednesday, 15 people in 11 households had applied for preparatory stays.

A 45-year-old man who now lives in Koga, Ibaraki Prefecture, returned to his house in Futaba on Thursday morning. “I can’t believe I can come back here,” he said happily.

After cleaning the house, he will start staying there Jan. 29.

“I’ll be able to build new memories with my children in this house. I hope more and more people will come back, and more lights will shine in the town,” the man said.

Futaba is the third municipality after the village of Katsurao and the town of Okuma to start preparatory stays in reconstruction bases.