TOKYO, April 1 (AP) An evacuation order was lifted for a small area of a small Japanese town southwest of the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant on Saturday, in time for the area’s popular cherry blossom season, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said. Participated in a commemorative reopening ceremony.
The roughly 4 square kilometers (1.5 square miles) area where entry restrictions have been lifted is part of the town of Tomioka, much of which has been reopened since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that triggered the triple meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
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Former residents and tourists stroll down a street dubbed “Sakura Tunnel” to celebrate the recent reopening.
Koichi Ono, 75, returned to the community where he grew up and lived until he was forced to evacuate. “After 12 years, I can finally come back and live here,” he told NHK television. “When I first started retirement, disaster struck, so I’m starting over.”
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Ono, who learned indigo and vegetable dyeing while taking refuge, wanted to open a studio as a meeting place for people. “I hope more people will come to visit.”
At the ceremony, Kishida pledged to continue efforts to reopen all restricted areas.
“The lifting of the evacuation is by no means the end goal, but the beginning of recovery,” Kishida said.
More than 160,000 residents across Fukushima had to be evacuated after the 2011 disaster caused massive radiation leaks from the nuclear power plant, with about 30,000 of them still unable to return home.
Tomioka City is one of 12 nearby towns that have been fully or partially designated as restricted areas. The two parts of Tomioka, which reopened for the first time in 12 years, account for a fifth of the worst-hit exclusion zone, which the government has chosen, along with several other sites in the area, for centralized decontamination.
But jobs, necessities and infrastructure remain inadequate, making it difficult for young people to return, and families with young children fear possible radiation effects.
Tomioka City Mayor Yamamoto Ikuo told reporters: “Many issues such as the living environment still need to be resolved.”
More than 50 of the roughly 2,500 registered residents in Tomioka’s newly reopened Yonomori and Osuge districts have reportedly returned or indicated they intend to return to live.
Since large areas of Tomioka reopened in 2017, only about 10 percent of the town’s pre-disaster population of 16,000 has returned.
Most former residents said they decided not to return because they had already found work, education and relationships elsewhere, the town survey showed.
The evacuation order was lifted on Friday for parts of Namie, another hard-hit town northwest of the plant. The reopened area accounts for only about 20% of the town.
“I have mixed feelings because there are many residents who still can’t return or don’t know when they can return,” Namie Mayor Eiko Yoshida said at Friday’s evacuation lifting ceremony. (AP)
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