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New evacuation ‘border’ baffles, splits community in Fukushima

Shoichi Sasaki’s house on the right, shown here on July 30 in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, will remain “off-limits” even after an evacuation order is lifted next spring for two houses on the other side of a road.

November 5, 2021

OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture—Evacuees eager to finally return to their homes near the hobbled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant have been thrown into confusion over the way evacuation orders will be lifted.

The orders will end in parts of the “difficult-to-return zones” in less than six months but not all of them as the town of Okuma had hoped.

In a compromise with the central government, the town accepted a boundary that cuts across the Machi neighborhood of Okuma, creating a livable “enclave” surrounded on all sides by “no-entry” areas.

Residents from the enclave will be able to return to their homes, but their neighbors, even on the other side of a street, could be prohibited from returning until the end of the decade.


Okuma co-hosts the nuclear plant, which suffered a triple meltdown after being hammered by the tsunami triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.

Machi is located along National Route 6 around 3 kilometers southeast of JR Ono Station, which stands in what used to be Okuma’s downtown.

The road is busy with trucks for post-disaster rebuilding work and passenger cars. But streets behind the barricades along the road are still lined with empty houses.

The around 90 households in the community were all forced to flee after the disaster. Machi was later designated a difficult-to-return zone, the most severe level for evacuation orders.

In 2017, about 20 of the 140 or so hectares of the community’s landmass were collectively designated by the central government as a “specified reconstruction and revitalization base,” entitling the area to preferential decontamination work.

The evacuation order covering those 20 hectares is expected to be lifted next spring.

However, Shoichi Sasaki, head of the Machi community, is not excited by the prospect.

“Our community has been divided, although radiation levels are more or less the same on the inside and outside of the ‘reconstruction base’ area,” Sasaki, 72, said.

Most of the 860 or so hectares in Okuma that have been designated as reconstruction bases are concentrated around Ono Station. The Machi community is detached from those areas.

The reconstruction base in Machi includes only about half of all households in the community. Returning residents may be denied free access to areas outside the reconstruction base that will remain as difficult-to-return zones.


A behind-the-scenes struggle between Okuma and the central government led to the curious demarcation, according to former senior town officials and assembly members.

Okuma town representatives called for a lifting of all difficult-to-return zone designations, but the central government did not like the idea, which would have required huge cleanup costs.

The “specified reconstruction and revitalization base” zoning system was a “product of compromise” to promote decontamination work for the lifting of evacuation orders only in limited parts of the difficult-to-return zones.

Sources said the central government made the proposal to designate part of the Machi community as a reconstruction base even though it was isolated from other bases around Ono Station.

Central government officials said the proposal took account of the fact that Machi was the seat of the Kumamachi village office before the village merged into Okuma during the Showa Era (1926-1989). Machi was home to a certain concentration of residences.

Okuma town representatives, concerned about a division of the Machi community, called on Tokyo to clean up and lift evacuation orders across all areas of the town, a former senior town official said.

The pleas were in vain.

Okuma ended up accepting Tokyo’s proposal, hoping it would “at least broaden areas where evacuation orders have been lifted,” the former senior town official said.

In Sasaki’s survey in May of all households from the Machi community, 11 said they wanted to return to their homes.

One of those who want to go home is Sasaki. However, his house lies just outside of the reconstruction base zone across a road.

“I have no idea when I will be allowed to go back home,” Sasaki said. “I hope as many residents as possible will be able to return and help each other to rebuild their lives there.”


The central government in August released a plan for cleaning up and lifting evacuation orders in areas outside the reconstruction bases, including those in Machi. Residents who had to evacuate from those areas may be allowed to return home by the end of the 2020s.

The specific dates and areas will be determined after talks with local communities, officials said.

Around 33,700 hectares of difficult-to-return zones exist in seven municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture.

Tokyo plans to lift evacuation orders for 1,510 hectares in Okuma, Futaba and Katsurao from next spring, followed by 1,237 hectares in three surrounding municipalities in spring 2023.

Cleanup of radioactive contaminants and development of infrastructure, including water supply and sewerage, are under way in those areas.

However, high residual radiation levels following the cleanup and delays in the restoration work have emerged.

Radiation levels failed to dip below 3.8 microsieverts per hour, the safety standard for lifting evacuation orders, at 1,269, or 2.7 percent, of measurement sites in areas of Okuma where the Environment Ministry conducted cleanup work between June 2013 and May this year.

The Okuma town government initially planned to start “preparatory overnight stays,” or temporary home returns for evacuees, in October.

The starting date has been put off to “by the end of this year.”

Radiation levels also failed to fall below the safety standard at 563, or 1.0 percent, of the measurement sites in the neighboring town of Futaba, the other co-host of the nuclear plant.

Evacuation orders in Futaba were initially scheduled to be lifted next spring. But delays in the infrastructure development will likely push back that schedule to around June at the earliest.

“It is essential to prepare an environment that allows residents to live without anxiety,” said Kencho Kawatsu, a guest professor of environmental policy and radiation science with Fukushima University.

Kawatsu heads an Okuma town committee reviewing the effects of cleanup work and other matters.

The Environment Ministry is conducting supplementary decontamination work in Okuma and Futaba. Kawatsu said the effects of those efforts should be reviewed carefully.

(This article was written by Shinichi Sekine, Toru Furusho and Nobuyuki Takiguchi.)


November 6, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , | Leave a comment

More evacuation orders to be lifted in Fukushima for some areas

Yoshito Konno’s home in a difficult-to-return zone, seen here on Aug. 30 in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, is shrouded in trees and weeds as tall as people.

September 24, 2021

Shrouded in trees and weeds as tall as people, his old house rests quietly in a difficult-to-return zone in the Tsushima district of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, only some 30 kilometers from the hobbled nuclear plant.

“I can finally see light at the end of the tunnel, although there will likely be a race against the clock of my lifetime,” said Yoshito Konno, 77. “I wish to be comfortably back in my hometown while I am still healthy enough to be moving around.”

The central government announced it will lift evacuation orders by the end of the decade for residents who wish to return to their homes in the last remaining difficult-to-return zones around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The new policy was approved at a joint meeting at the end of August by the Reconstruction Promotion Council and the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters.

But the government has no prospect of totally lifting evacuation orders for all the difficult-to-return areas as the new policy is expected to cover only limited areas.

Konno’s home community had 262 residents from 80 households prior to the 2011 nuclear disaster.

About 45 of them, mostly advanced in age, have since died.

“Those who died while separated from their hometown must have felt so frustrated and let down,” he said. “The central government and the town government should take action as soon as possible in line with the newly approved plan.”

Currently, areas where about 22,000 residents used to live remain designated as difficult-to-return zones.

This latest decision covers sparsely populated areas which are outside the areas designated for earlier lifting and once home to some 8,000 people, who previously had little hope of ever returning given the absence of a plan for them.

Some of the more populated areas had been designated as reconstruction bases where evacuation orders will be lifted by spring 2023.

Local communities had been pressing the central government to come up with a plan for lifting the evacuation orders in those undesignated areas. The government has committed to fund cleanups and lift evacuation orders on a limited basis, when requested by the locals.

For people like Konno, the news came as a relief.

But more than a decade since the disaster, others have mixed feelings about the prospect of one day returning after finding new lives and livelihoods in the communities to which they have evacuated to. 


A survey taken by the Reconstruction Agency in fiscal 2020 showed that in the four towns that contain part of the difficult-to-return zones, only about 10 percent said they wished to return.

About 50 to 60 percent of respondents from each of those towns said they did not want to return.

Kazuharu Fukuda, 50, president of a local construction company and evacuee from the town of Futaba, said he will not be returning home any time soon because he now resides and works in another town.

The central government’s plan to decontaminate areas where cleanup is necessary to allow people to return has not impressed Fukuda.

“Even if I were to return, the land plots next to mine would remain contaminated with high radiation levels and with everything left in a dilapidated state,” he said. “How could I take up residence in such a place? I want the central government to clean up all the areas and restore them to their original state before letting us decide whether to return.”

Under the new plan, which was presented by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga during the joint meeting, residents of the areas in question will be surveyed.

After that, the surroundings of the homes of those who wish to return will be decontaminated, and the government will develop key infrastructure to facilitate their return.

There is no prospect for evacuation orders to be completely lifted in those areas because the decontamination work will be done only in limited areas at the request of those who wish to return.

The decontamination process will be funded by two special central government accounts: one designated for rebuilding from the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011; and another designated for energy policy measures, financed by revenues from electricity rates.

The difficult-to-return zones straddle six towns and villages in Fukushima Prefecture.

Some areas in those zones, including the surroundings of town halls, village offices and residential districts, have been designated “Specified Reconstruction and Revitalization Bases” by the central government.

The goal is to lift the evacuation orders in those places sometime between 2022 and the spring of 2023.

The central government is funding cleanup, construction of public housing complexes for disaster survivors and other work currently under way in these locations.

The areas outside the “specified bases” account for more than 90 percent of all the landmass of the difficult-to-return zones and slightly less than 40 percent of the population. Cleanup and other related work will only be conducted in those outside areas after considering whether the residents are expected to return.

Local governments had called on the central government to set a date to lift all the difficult-to-return zones so residents outside the designated reconstruction bases will not be left behind.

The central government has so far lifted evacuation orders for areas home to about 45,000 people. Only about 14,000 of those residents–about 30 percent–have returned to their home communities, although the government has spent some 3 trillion yen ($27 billion) on cleaning up those areas alone.

The government remains skeptical that large-scale decontamination will be effective for post-disaster rebuilding, so it has decided to clean up only limited areas based on requests.

September 25, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , | Leave a comment

Evacuation Orders Lifted for Iitate, Kawamata, Namie, Tomioka

The Japanese government has lifted evacuation orders for zones it had designated as “areas to which evacuation orders are ready to be lifted” and “areas in which residents are not permitted to live” as a result of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. The orders were lifted in Iitate, Namie and the Yamakiya district of Kawamata on March 31 and in Tomioka on April 1. Evacuation orders for “areas where it is expected that residents will face difficulties in returning for a long time” (or, more briefly, “difficult-to-return zones”) remain in place. The evacuation orders originally affected a total of 12 municipalities, but had been lifted for six of those as of last year. The latest rescission of orders has brought the ratio of refugees allowed to return to their homes to about 70%, with the area still under evacuation orders reduced to about 30% of its original size. TEPCO intends to cut off compensation to these refugees, with a target date of March 2018, roughly a year after the evacuation orders were lifted. Additionally, the provision of free housing to “voluntary evacuees,” who evacuated from areas not under evacuation orders, was discontinued at the end of March 2017.


Lifting of Orders Affects 32,000 People

The number of people forced to abandon their homes due to the Fukushima nuclear accident reached a peak of 164,865 people in May 2012, when they had no choice but to evacuate. Now, even six years later, 79,446 evacuees (as of February 2017) continue to lead difficult lives as refugees.

In the six municipalities for which the evacuation orders were lifted last year, the repatriation of residents has not proceeded well. Repatriation ratios compared to the pre-disaster population have been about 50 to 60% for Hirono and Tamura, about 20% for Kawauchi, and not even 10% for Naraha, Katsurao and the Odaka district of Minamisoma, where radiation doses were high (see Table 1).

Capture du 2017-06-04 14-36-01


The number of evacuees affected by the current lifting of evacuation orders for the four municipalities is 32,169. The ratio of positive responses to a residents’ opinion survey conducted by the Reconstruction Agency from last year to this year saying they would like to be repatriated was rather low, with about 30 to 40% for Iitate and Kawamata, and less than 20% for Namie and Tomioka. During the long course of their evacuation, spanning six years, many of the residents had already built foundations for their lives in the places to which they had evacuated.


House and Building Demolition Proceeding (Namie)

A total of 15,356 evacuees (as of the end of 2016) are affected by the rescission of evacuation orders for Namie, amounting to about 80% of the town’s residents. Results of an opinion survey published by the Reconstruction Agency in November showed 17.5% of the residents saying they wanted to return to Namie. Most replied that they did not want to return or that they could not return yet.

A temporary shopping center named “Machi Nami Marushe” has been newly opened next to the main Namie Town Office building, where the evacuation orders have been lifted. The rail service on the Joban Line to JR Namie Station was restored when the orders were lifted. In the area around Namie Station and the shopping center in front of it, houses and buildings are being demolished and decontamination and road repair work are proceeding at a high pitch.

Meanwhile, Namie’s residents say their houses have been made uninhabitable by damage from various wild animals, including boars, raccoon dogs, palm civets, raccoons, martens and monkeys. Many houses have been ruined, necessitating their demolition.


‘Forward Base’ for Reactor Decommissioning (Tomioka)

A total of 9,601 evacuees (as of January 1, 2017) are affected by the rescission of evacuation orders for Tomioka, about 70% of the town’s residents. Results of a residents’ opinion survey show no more than 16% of them wishing to return to the town.

Last November, a commercial zone called “Sakura Mall Tomioka” was established along National Route 6. A supermarket and drug store opened for business there at the end of March. Nearby is the “Energy Hall”—TEPCO’s nuclear power PR facilities. Right next door to that, housing is being built for reconstruction workers, consisting of 50 detached houses and 140 apartment complex units. There are plans to relocate JR Tomioka Station to a position near these.

The town will play a role as a “forward base for reactor decommissioning.” The Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) is promoting the construction of an international research center for the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning (IRID), scheduled for completion by the end of March. It will carry out research on human resource development and methods for the disposal of radioactive wastes. These facilities are not meant for returning residents. Instead, they are being promoted as part of plans for a new “workers’ town” and will have decontamination and decommissioning workers move in as new residents along with decommissioning researchers.

On the other hand, the “difficult-to-return zones” of about 8 km2, including the Yonomori district, famous for its cherry tree tunnel that used to be lit up at night, will remain under evacuation orders. At a residents’ briefing, people expressed worries about matters like having to see the barricades to those zones on a daily basis.


Non-repatriating Residents Cut Off (Iitate)

The village of Iitate, located about 40 km northwest of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, is making a massive decontamination effort across its entire area, including agricultural fields, to prepare for repatriation of its residents. About 2.35 million large flexible container bags into which contaminated waste is stuffed are stacked in temporary storage areas, accounting for about 30% of the total 7.53 million bags overall in the special decontamination area (for decontamination directly implemented by the national government). Prior to rescission of the evacuation orders, Iitate Mayor Norio Kanno made the controversial remark, “We will honor support from residents who repatriate to the village.” This brought an angry response from the residents, declaring that they were adamantly opposed to an attitude of treating those not returning as non-residents. The village’s position on repatriation is that it should be up to the judgement of the villagers themselves.


Three Requirements for Lifting Evacuation Orders

On December 26, 2011, Japan’s government determined three conditions needed to be fulfilled before evacuation orders could be lifted. These were (1) certainty that the accumulative annual dose at the estimated air dose rate would be 20 mSv or less, (2) that infrastructure and everyday services had been restored and decontamination work had proceeded sufficiently, especially in environments where children would be active, and (3) that there had been sufficient consultation with the prefecture, municipalities and residents. In May 2015, the government decided on a target of March 2017 for lifting the evacuation orders for all but the “difficult-to-return zones.” They proceeded with the decontamination work and provision of infrastructure for the residents’ return, but gaining consent was a hopeless cause.


Requirement 1: Coerced Exposure The annual 20 mSv standard the government established is puzzling. The ICRP’s recommendations and laws such as Japan’s Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law stipulate a public radiation exposure limit of 1 mSv a year. The government is repatriating the residents even at radiation doses exceeding this, and of most concern is how this will affect their health. The residents argue, “We cannot return to places with such a high risk of exposure.”

Trial calculations of the radiation doses received by individuals staying in Namie and Tomioka to conduct preparatory work were published prior to the rescission of evacuation orders for those towns, showing annual doses of 1.54 mSv for Namie and 1.52 mSv for Tomioka. These are below the government’s standard of 20 mSv a year (3.8 μSv per hour)* for lifting evacuation orders, but both exceed the annual limit for public exposure. They are not conditions ensuring “safety and security” as the government says.

At the residents’ briefings, the government explained that its basis for lifting the orders was that decontamination had been completed. However, even if the annual radiation dose has not fallen below 1mSv (the government’s decontamination standard, equivalent to an hourly dose of 0.23 μSv) after decontamination, they will press ahead with lifting the evacuation orders anyway. This drew strong reactions from the residents who said, “Are you making us return just because of the decontamination?” and “Are you forcing us to be exposed?”


Requirement 2: Shopping Close By

Prior to the earthquake and tsunami disaster, the Odaka district of Minamisoma, where the evacuation orders were lifted last July, had six supermarkets, two home centers, six fish shops and three drugstores. All of those, however, were lost in the disaster. At last, after the evacuation orders were lifted, two convenience stores opened, but they are far from the residential area near JR Odaka Station, and cannot be reached on foot. A clinic reopened, but since there is no pharmacy, there is no way for patients to buy prescribed medicines. Repatriated residents have to travel for about 20 minutes by car to the adjacent Haramachi district about 10 kilometers away to supplement their shopping and other necessities. Residents without cars, such as the elderly, have difficulty living there. They say, “Nobody wants to reopen the stores because it is obvious that they’ll run at a loss.” A vicious cycle continues, with stores unable to open because the residents who would be their customers are not returning.


Requirement 3: Spurn Residents’ Wishes Almost none of the residents attending the residents’ briefings have been in favor of lifting the evacuation orders. Nine or more out of 10 have expressed opposition. They are always given the same canned explanation, with the national and municipal governments brazenly and unilaterally insisting on lifting the orders.

“It is too soon to lift the evacuation orders,” complained one resident at Namie’s residents’ briefing on February 7. The 74-year-old woman living as an evacuee in Tokyo had been getting by on 100,000 yen a month in pension payments and compensation for mental anguish and was living in a single-bedroom public apartment (UR Housing) in Tokyo that qualifies as post-disaster public-funded rental accommodation. Her compensation will be cut off, and if she chooses to continue living in the housing where she currently resides, the rent is expected to exceed 100,000 yen. She considers how many years she could continue paying and doesn’t know what she would do if she became unable to pay. Such constant thoughts increase her anxiety. The minute the evacuation orders are lifted, she too will be rendered a “voluntary evacuee.”

The woman said, “Even if they tell me to go back to Namie because it is safe, I will not return.” They have finished decontaminating her house, but high levels of radiation remain, measuring 0.4 μSv per hour in her garden and 0.6 μSv per hour in her living room. With regard to this, Namie Mayor Tamotsu Baba keeps repeating the same response that “the environment is in good order for people to come back and live in our town.”

A multitude of residents expressed a litany of angry opinions, such as, “If the government says it is safe, they ought to send some of their officials to live here first,” “Say we come back, but if we are going to live next to where dangerous decommissioning work is going on, are they still going to cut off our compensation?” and “The government and town officials say they are striving for the safety and security of the residents, but we can’t trust them at all.” Following this briefing, though, on February 27, the town of Namie accepted the national government’s policy of lifting the evacuation orders, formally deciding on the end of March as the date for rescission. They pooh-poohed the views of many of the town’s residents opposed to lifting of the orders.


Conclusion In a Cabinet Decision on December 20, 2016, the Japanese government adopted a “Policy for Accelerating Fukushima’s Reconstruction.” This policy promotes the preparation of “reconstruction bases” in parts of the “difficult-to-return zones” and the use of government funds for decontamination toward a target of lifting the evacuation orders for these areas in five years and urging repatriation. “Difficult-to-return zones” span the seven municipalities of Futaba, Okuma, Tomioka, Namie, Iitate, Katsurao and Minamisoma. By area, they account for 62% of Okuma and 96% of Futaba. The affected population numbers about 24,000 people.

The government’s repatriation policy, however, is resulting in bankruptcies. Rather than repatriation, they should be promoting a “policy of evacuation” in consideration of current conditions. Policies should be immediately implemented to provide economic, social and health support to the evacuees, enabling them to live healthy, civilized lives, regardless of whether they choose to repatriate or continue their evacuation.


Ryohei Kataoka, CNIC


* This calculation is based on a government approved formula which assumes that people will be exposed to 3.8 μSv per hour only for 8 hours per day when they are outside the house. It is assumed that they will be indoors for 16 hours per day and the screening effect will reduce the exposure rate to 1.52 μSv per hour. On a yearly basis, this calculates to slightly less than 20 mSv per year.

June 4, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Japan further scales down evacuation zones around Fukushima plant

28 feb 2017.jpg

FUKUSHIMA, Japan (Kyodo) — The government on Friday lifted the remaining evacuation orders for large parts of areas less seriously contaminated by the radiation due to the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster.

The government lifted evacuation orders that had affected some parts of the towns of Kawamata and Namie as well as the village of Iitate. A large part of the town of Tomioka will also be released from the evacuation order Saturday.

The move will scale down the evacuation zones to about one-third of what they had originally been. But it is uncertain whether many residents will return to their homes amid radiation fears, while the most seriously contaminated areas around the disaster-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant remain a no-go zone.

Initially, 11 municipalities — many of which are located within a 20-kilometers radius of the crippled nuclear complex — had been subject to the evacuation orders. They were later rezoned into three categories based on their radiation levels, with the most seriously contaminated land defined as the difficult-to-return areas.

Through radiation cleanup work and efforts to rebuild infrastructure, the government said in 2015 that it aimed to remove by the end of the current fiscal year through Friday all the evacuation orders except for those issued to the difficult-to-return zones.

But the government failed to do so in the towns of Okuma and Futaba, which host the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant owned by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.

Okuma and Futaba have some areas not designated as highly toxic, but both towns will remain under full evacuation orders due to insufficient infrastructure, according to government officials.

The areas where evacuation orders will be lifted by Saturday had a registered population of about 32,000, or 12,000 households, around the end of February. Even after the move, seven municipalities will be partially or fully subject to evacuation orders.

As for the difficult-to-return zones, the government plans to create areas where they will conduct intense decontamination and lift the evacuation orders for those areas in about five years’ time.

The number of Fukushima people who fled from their homes in the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, which also triggered the nuclear crisis, stood at about 77,000 people as of March. The maximum number was about 165,000 marked in May 2012.

March 31, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , | Leave a comment

Govt. to lift more Fukushima evacuation orders

10 march 2017 3


The Japanese government is set to lift evacuation orders in 2 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture, issued after the 2011 nuclear disaster.

The government will hold a joint meeting between the reconstruction taskforce and the nuclear disaster task force on Friday. On Saturday, it will be 6 years since the earthquake and tsunami.

Participants will decide on whether to lift an evacuation order in part of Namie town on March 31st and a portion of Tomioka on April 1st.

Following the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the government issued evacuation orders for 11 municipalities in the prefecture and has since gradually lifted them.

With the latest measure, the orders will be in effect only in no-entry zones with high radiation levels as well as part of the towns of Futaba and Okuma that co-host the nuclear plant.

About 1,150 square kilometers were initially subject to the government evacuation order. That number is now expected to shrink to about 369.

The central government hopes to continue decontamination work and infrastructure projects in some no-entry zones. It says it wants to create a hub for reconstruction by the end of fiscal 2021, where residents and decontamination workers will live.

But the government faces challenges in rebuilding communities as an increasing number of people, mainly the young, say they don’t want to return to their hometowns even if evacuation orders are lifted.

March 10, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , , | Leave a comment