Photo/IllutrationRows of tanks that store contaminated water from operations to cool the crippled reactors of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, on the grounds of the site, on Feb. 13 (Pool)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture--An evacuation order will be lifted for two districts here as early as April, eight years after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant spewed massive amounts of radioactive substances into the air.

It would be the first time for Okuma, which co-hosts the plant, to see the evacuation order lifted, albeit partially.

The Okuma town government, which moved 100 kilometers to Aizuwakamatsu in the prefecture following the disaster, reported at a meeting of town assembly members on Feb. 19 that conditions in Okuma, including radiation levels, have improved to meet the criteria for lifting the order.

The town plans to discuss the schedule for lifting the order with the central government and hold a meeting in March with evacuees.

“I want to explain the town’s stance in such a way that residents will fully understand,” said Okuma Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe.

The entire town, with a population of 11,500, was ordered to evacuate after the onset of the nuclear crisis following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

The lifting of the order is expected to cover the Ogawara and Chuyashiki districts, both southwest of the plant.

Together the districts account for about 40 percent of the town’s acreage. The town’s records showed that 374 residents, or about 4 percent of the current population, are registered in the districts, as of the end of January.

The town government has been preparing for the partial lifting of the evacuation order since April last year.

As of Feb. 7, 46 people have returned to live there as an advance group.

In Ogawara, about 700 employees of Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the plant, live in the company’s dormitory built in 2016 as a special case and commute to the nuclear complex to engage in decommissioning work.

At the Feb. 19 meeting, a member of the town’s committee that assesses the progress of decontamination said, “Radiation levels have declined sufficiently.”

The town anticipates that about 1,000 residents will move back to the Ogawara district, where a new town hall is being built, along with about 2,000 people coming from out of town.

However, the psychological barriers are high for Okuma evacuees, as the town now hosts an interim storage site for radioactive waste produced from decontamination operations in the prefecture.

Preliminary results of a survey conducted last year to gauge the sentiment of residents showed that only 10 percent of respondents expressed a desire to return. About 60 percent said they had no plans to return.

The town government of Futaba, the neighboring town that co-hosts the nuclear plant, aims to have its evacuation order partially lifted around spring 2020.

(This article was written by Hideyuki Miura and Daiki Ishizuka.)