Evacuation order in effect since 2011 ends in residential area of Fukushima

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A worker removes a road closure sign in Katsurao, Fukushima Prefecture, on Sunday.

FUKUSHIMA — An area in Katsurao, Fukushima Prefecture, on Sunday at 8 a.m. saw the lifting of an evacuation order that had been in place since the 2011 nuclear power plant incident.

The area of the village had been designated as a so-called difficult-to-return zone, where entry has been under extended restrictions because of high radiation levels. However, decontamination work in sections of the area has brought radiation levels down below the criteria needed to lift the order. As of June 1, 82 residents in 30 households were on record as living in the restricted area.

This is the first time that the evacuation order for a residential area in difficult-to-return zone has been lifted.

The now-unrestricted area is in the Noyuki district in the northeastern part of the village. The 0.95-square-kilometer section of land is designated as specified footholds for rehabilitation and revitalization under the special measures law to promote the reconstruction of the prefecture following the incident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Barricades were removed from the roadway connecting to prefectural road No. 50 running through the center of the area on Sunday morning, allowing unrestricted entry for the first time in some 11 years since the nuclear power plant was crippled.

“This is a milestone, but everything starts over now,” Katsurao Mayor Hiroshi Shinoki said at an area where the barricades were removed. “We will continue to be close to the residents of the Noyuki district.”

Encouraging residents to return is also a tall order. Many citizens have already settled in alternative locations after the area was evacuated. In a survey conducted by the village in the fall of 2020, only eight residents from four households said they want to return.

A special measure to allow residents in the restricted area to stay overnight in their homes or other locations to prepare for their return began last year in November. However, only four residents from two households signed up to participate.