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Evacuated Fukushima villagers return home, but not without worries

11 years from when the Noyuki community were asked to relocate, many residents have already rebuilt their lives and settled down in areas where they had been evacuated.

Newly returned Fujio Hanzawa talks in the living room of his house in Katsurao, Fukushima Prefecture, on Sunday.

June 15, 2022

TOKYO —  As day broke on a rainy Sunday, the barricade was opened on the road leading to the Noyuki district of the Fukushima Prefecture village of Katsurao.

For 11 years, the district had been designated as off-limits in the wake of the meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s nearby Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

With the evacuation order lifted for much of the village, it aims to restart as a community through the building of an exchange facility and supporting the resumption of farming.

But the joy of returning to their old lives is tempered with worries about an uncertain future. Only two families actually returned to Noyuki on the first day, and one resident said that restarting life after a decade away leaves him with “80% unease.”

In Katsurao as a whole, the number of residents actually living there now is less than 40% of the 1,300 or so registered on the village rolls.

Katsurao Mayor Hiroshi Shinoki, standing to the side of the barricade when it was opened at 8 a.m. on Sunday, declared, “We’ve entered a new stage, but also a new start.”

Located among the Abukuma mountain range, Katsurao encompasses a total area of about 84 square kilometers, of which more than 80% is covered by forest. In June 2016, the evacuation order was lifted for much of the village — with Noyuki, which had been designated as a so-called difficult-to-return zone because of high radiation levels, among the exceptions.

Decontamination work has since lowered radiation levels below the criteria for lifting the order, and the 0.95-square-kilometer section of the district where residences are located opened Sunday.

Noyuki is located deep in the mountains in the northeastern part of the village. The village has set a five-year target of having around 80 people return to live in areas where evacuation orders have been lifted. But, the 11 years that have passed weigh heavily on small remote communities like Noyuki, and many residents have already rebuilt their lives and set down roots in areas where they evacuated.

Fujio Hanzawa was one who decided to return to his hometown. “I had been waiting for this day to come,” the 69-year-old said as he sipped tea on Sunday morning, looking out the window of the living room in his rebuilt house. “I want to take it easy while feeling the change of the seasons.”

After the rain that fell let up in the evening, he went out and worked for a bit in his rice paddy, then took a walk around the community before returning home.

Born in Noyuki as the eldest son of a farm family, Hanzawa grew up being told by his parents that it was his responsibility to defend his nest. Even while working as a village civil servant, he grew rice and vegetables and watched over the land that had been the family’s since the Meiji era (1868-1912).

At the time of the nuclear accident, Hanzawa was involved in helping evacuees, and he and his family had to relocate several times around the prefecture. About six years ago, when there was no prospect in sight of the evacuation order being lifted in Noyuki, Hanzawa built a cozy one-story house about 40 kilometers away in Koriyama City.

As his mother, who needs nursing care, lives in Koriyama, he plans to split his time between Katsurao and Koriyama.

In anticipation of the lifting of the evacuation order, test rice cultivation began in the Noyuki district last year. “It’s a thrill to plant the seedlings and harvest the rice,” said Hanzawa, who is head of the local agricultural cooperative.

However, most of the cooperative’s members “commute” from homes in evacuation sites. The members of the two families that returned this time, including Hanzawa’s, are all elderly.

Can they help each other in times of emergency? Can they resume careers in farming?

“Comparing my happiness and my uneasiness, I’m 80% uneasy,” Hanzawa said. “I want to take my time to determine what I can do. I hope seeing me will help persuade people to return to the village.”

June 18, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , | Leave a comment

Japan’s Fukushima village residents allowed to return 11 years after nuclear disaster – but do they want to?

Restrictions lifted for some residents in Fukushima prefecture, more than decade after the nuclear disaster, but many people are still worried

It’s first time restrictions removed to allow people to live again in ‘difficult-to-return’ zone; government says radiation levels have been reduced

Workers open a gate in Katsurao, Japan, as evacuation orders are lifted for part of the village, near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, allowing residents to move back into their homes more than a decade on from the March 2011 disaster.

12 June, 2022

Residents from part of Katsurao village in Fukushima Prefecture can move back into their homes again more than a decade on from the March 2011 nuclear disaster that followed an earthquake and tsunami, after evacuation orders were lifted on Sunday morning.

It is the first time restrictions have been removed to allow residents to live again in part of the “difficult-to-return” zone once expected to stay closed far into the future due to high radiation exposure.

The government decided on June 3 to end restrictions for the 0.95-square-kilometre area after determining decontamination had reduced radiation levels, and that infrastructure was in place to support habitation.

But while the government has poured funds into decontamination and infrastructure development for zones known as “specified reconstruction and revitalisation bases” which are earmarked for reopening, the intervening 11 years have depressed residents’ desire to return to their homes.

In the part of Katsurao’s Noyuki district where restrictions have been lifted, just four of the 30 households comprising 82 people intend to return, according to the local government.

Amid rainy weather, an official from the central government’s nuclear emergency response headquarters declared the area reopened at 8am. After the gate blocking the road was opened, a police car and other vehicles quickly began patrols of the area.

Katsurao Mayor Hiroshi Shinoki indicated he was considering bringing back residents through revitalising local agriculture, the area’s key industry.

“This is one milestone,” he said. “It is our duty to work to try to bring things back as much as we can to how they were 11 years ago.”

But Fujio Hanzawa, a 69-year-old resident who was quick to revisit his home, spoke carefully when asked about the reopening. “I’m glad I can return without limits, but I’m still 80 per cent concerned. There are issues outstanding, like the unfinished decontamination of the mountain.”

Around 337 square kilometres of land in seven Fukushima municipalities remain subject to the difficult-to-return zone classification. Of those, a total of just 27 square kilometres in six of the same municipalities comprise specified reconstruction and revitalisation base zones.

Apart from Katsurao, the towns of Futaba and Okuma – the latter being home to the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant – are expected to see restrictions partially lifted sometime this month or later, with another three municipalities scheduled for next spring. A specific timetable for areas outside the specified reconstruction bases has not been reached.

Katsurao was made entirely off-limits following the nearby nuclear power plant’s meltdown in the aftermath of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

https://www.scmp.com/news/asia/east-asia/article/3181426/japans-fukushima-village-residents-allowed-return-11-years

June 18, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

Government OKs reopening of Fukushima village section to residents in June

Decontamination work is conducted in the village of Katsurao, Fukushima Prefecture, in November 2018

June 3, 2022

Fukushima – More than a decade since the March 2011 nuclear disaster, some registered residents of part of a Fukushima village made off-limits by high radiation levels can finally return home after the government decided Friday to lift evacuation orders on June 12.

While some areas around stations and rail tracks had their so-called “difficult-to-return” zone classification lifted, it is the first time for the classification to be lifted to host permanent residents again.

A 0.95 square kilometer part of Katsurao, located near the defunct Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, will have the designation lifted, the government’s nuclear emergency response headquarters and the Reconstruction Agency agreed in a joint meeting.

The move comes after national and local governments decided in May that the area’s radiation decontamination and infrastructural developments had progressed enough to reopen.

“This is a big step toward the restoration of the village,” said Mayor Hiroshi Shinoki in a statement. “The lifting is not a goal, but a start.”

The entirety of Katsurao became off-limits after the nuclear crisis triggered by an enormous earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, with evacuation orders for most of the village lifted on June 12, 2016.

Of the 30 registered households and 82 residents in the relevant part of Katsurao, just four households totaling eight people have expressed an intention to return, according to the village government.

Currently, around 337 sq. km of land in six municipalities of Fukushima Prefecture, including Katsurao, Okuma and Futaba, is still subject to the difficult-to-return zone classification.

At Friday’s meeting, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he intends to “move ahead with work to lift restrictions and further accelerate Fukushima’s recovery.”

Among the five other Fukushima municipalities inside the zone, Futaba and Okuma are set to have restrictions partially lifted from June onward, while the other three can expect partial removals in spring 2023.

However, more than 90% of the difficult-to-return zone in the prefecture will remain under the classification, and there is no concrete timetable for when it will be completely accessible again.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2022/06/03/national/fukushima-village-residents-return/?fbclid=IwAR1dC6AUO7mneslC3NsFAK0Gg08TXj2LeFTEjE7UJuEG4OElfjU-DYT-eU0

June 13, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

Areas reopening after Fukushima nuclear disaster need sustained gov’t support

June 10, 2022

Evacuation orders that have been in place since the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station disaster are set to be lifted in part of the Fukushima Prefecture village of Katsurao, one of the so-called difficult-to-return zones, on June 12.

Difficult-to-return zones, which people are forbidden from entering in principle due to high radiation levels, have been left behind in the recovery process. The latest move marks the first time that people will be able to live in one of these areas since the meltdowns triggered by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

The central parts of six difficult-to-return towns and villages including Katsurao have been designated as “zones for reconstruction and recovery,” and the national government has been carrying out decontamination work there. The part of the village of Katsurao set to reopen for living is one of such zones, finally marking a step forward more than 11 years after the accident.

However, of the 82 people in 30 households registered in that part of Katsurao, at this stage only eight people in four households have expressed their intention to return.

Evacuation orders were lifted in 2016 for other parts of Katsurao that fell outside the difficult-to-return zone, five years after the onset of the disaster. Another six years have passed since then, and residents have apparently become hesitant to return.

Through next spring, it is expected to become possible for people to permanently return to designated reconstruction and recovery zones in five remaining towns and villages including the towns of Futaba and Okuma, which the crippled nuclear power station straddles.

Many residents, however, are reluctant to return as those areas face an uncertain future. While local bodies are planning to secure medical care and attract commercial facilities into the areas, there is a need to steadily prepare such a living environment.

Besides worries about the future, an additional source of concern for people is that decontamination work in areas outside the specified reconstruction and recovery zones has yet to commence.

The government promised to create an environment enabling all residents wanting to return to do so in the 2020s. But the only places outside the restoration and recovery zones that the government has decided to decontaminate are returning residents’ homes and their vicinities. It has not revealed how it plans to handle other land and homes.

If the scope of decontamination work is not fixed, there will likely be many residents unable to decide whether they can return with peace of mind. The government needs to quickly present a course of action.

The road to recovery of the difficult-to-return zones is still far off. An official at Katsurao Murazukuri Kosha, a public corporation that is promoting the revival of the village, stressed, “First, it’s important to properly support the lives of people who have returned. We want to move forward one step at a time from there.”

The government has a responsibility to accomplish the revitalization of Fukushima. It must listen to the voices of residents, and continue to offer sustained support.

https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20220610/p2a/00m/0op/013000c

June 13, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

Entry ban to end for village in Fukushima, but few plan return

A radiation monitoring post in the “difficult-to-return zone” in Katsurao, Fukushima Prefecture, showed a reading of 1.162 microsieverts per hour on May 15, several times the figure for before the nuclear disaster.

May 17, 2022

Evacuation orders will be lifted in June for the first time in the residential zone considered the most heavily contaminated from 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima Prefecture.

Residents who fled from the Noyuki district of Katsurao village northwest of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant will be allowed to restart living there on June 12.

The decision followed a meeting between central government officials handling the nuclear accident and Katsurao officials on May 16.

The official decision is expected to be announced at a meeting of the government’s nuclear emergency response headquarters led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Eighty-two people of 30 households who used to live in the district will be eligible to return. The district is about 20 kilometers from the stricken nuclear plant and part of the government-designated “difficult-to-return zone.”

Eight people of four families have expressed their intention to return, according to village officials.

More than 11 years have passed since the area was put off-limits by the government. And many evacuees and their families have started new lives elsewhere.

Yoshinobu Osawa, a 68-year-old man who lives in public housing with his wife in Miharu, a town about 30 km from the Noyuki district, indicated that they will not return to their original home.

His house in the district was dismantled three years ago, and he believes he is too old to rebuild his life from scratch.

“The passage of 11 years after the disaster weighs heavily,” he said.

Following the triple meltdown at the plant in March 2011, the government issued evacuation orders for areas where annual radiation doses were estimated to reach 20 millisieverts, including all of Katsurao.

The government also designated areas with readings of 50 millisieverts a year in the difficult-to-return zone.

Seven municipalities, with a combined pre-disaster population of 22,000, fell in this category, including most of Katsurao as well as Okuma and Futaba, which co-host the nuclear plant.

Barricades were erected to prevent people from entering the difficult-to-return zone.

In December 2011, the government prioritized decontamination efforts in districts outside the difficult-to-return zone. It also said restrictions on living in the zone would remain for many years because of the high radiation levels.

But in a reversal of the policy, the government in August 2016 announced that it would clean up parts of the zone for a future lifting of the entry ban. A government study showed that radiation levels had dropped naturally in some areas of the zone despite the absence of decontamination work.

In 2016, Katsurao villagers whose homes were located in areas with readings of less than 50 millisieverts a year were allowed to return.

However, less than 30 percent have returned, according to the village hall, which is hoping that 80 people will return within the next five years.

Hiroshi Shinoki, the village chief, acknowledged the challenge at a news conference on May 16.

“We have finally reached the starting line for reconstruction,” he said. “But numerous problems have arisen as time passed by.”

The lifting of the entry ban for specific reconstruction areas in Okuma and Futaba is expected between June and July.

Osawa noted that cleanup work has reduced the radiation levels of the Noyuki district to less than 20 millisieverts a year.

Still, the figure is 10 times that of the pre-disaster doses.

He said he cannot gather mushrooms and edible wild plants like he used to because they are now contaminated.

(This article was compiled from reports by Susumu Imaizumi, Tetsuya Kasai, Keitaro Fukuchi and Senior Staff Writer Noriyoshi Ohtsuki.)

May 22, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , , | Leave a comment

Japan to Lift Evacuation Order for Fukushima Katsurao Area June 12

May 16, 2022

Japan will lift on June 12 an evacuation order for a Fukushima Prefecture district that has been in place since the 2011 nuclear disaster.
The district in the northeastern village of Katsurao, designated as a specified reconstruction and revitalization base, will become the first area in the so-called difficult-to-return zone to host permanent residents again.
The central government’s nuclear disaster response headquarters, as well as the Katsurao village and Fukushima prefectural governments, announced an agreement on the removal of the order at a news conference in the village office.
In 2011, all Katsurao residents were ordered to evacuate due to the triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in the prefecture.
Later, the evacuation order was lifted for most of the village. Still, the Noyuki district, which is some 1,600 hectares and accounts for some 20 pct of the village, remains designated the difficult-to-return zone due to high radiation levels.

https://sp.m.jiji.com/english/show/19741?fbclid=IwAR0N_CPpxeKUcnCPZ_ENFuS3SRPMxfsWUfVRDU6RY4IzDDmlmp0XoKZL9hk

May 22, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

Evacuation order to be lifted for Fukushima district on June 12

Katsurao Mayor Hiroshi Shinoki (right) and Masahiro Ishii (center), state minister of economy, trade and industry, attend a news conference about the lifting of an evacuation order for a district in Katsurao, Fukushima Prefecture, at the village on Monday

May 16, 2022

Katsurao, Fukushima Pref. – An evacuation order for a Fukushima Prefecture district that has been in place since the 2011 nuclear disaster will be lifted on June 12.

The district in the village of Katsurao, designated as a specified reconstruction and revitalization base, will become the first area in the so-called difficult-to-return zone to host permanent residents again.

The central government’s nuclear disaster response task force, as well as the Katsurao village and Fukushima prefectural governments, announced an agreement on the removal of the order at a news conference in the village office.

In 2011, all Katsurao residents were ordered to evacuate due to the triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings’ Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in the prefecture.

Later, the evacuation order was lifted for most of the village. Still, the Noyuki district, which totals some 1,600 hectares and accounts for some 20% of the village, remains designated as a difficult-to-return zone due to high radiation levels.

“We’ve finally reached the starting line,” Katsurao Mayor Hiroshi Shinoki told the news conference, stressing his resolve to provide people from the village with “support for the reconstruction of their lives.”

Masahiro Ishii, state minister of economy, trade and industry, who heads the task force, said he is “aware of the voicing of concerns mainly about radiation levels.”

“We’ll work carefully, including for the establishment of a consultation system, while holding discussions with the village,” he added.

According to the Katsurao government, the village’s specified reconstruction and revitalization base, which is some 95 hectares, has 82 registered residents belonging to 30 households.

But only four members of two households have taken part in a program from the end of November last year that allows locals to stay inside the district to prepare for the expected full return.

“Eleven years have already passed since the disaster, and we cannot return as soon as the order is lifted,” Sayuri Osawa, 67, said.

Osawa, who lives in the Fukushima town of Miharu, was among those who attended a briefing held on Sunday for displaced Katsurao residents.

“If I could return, I would work on a farm and plant flowers,” she said with a smile.

Fukushima has six specified reconstruction and revitalization bases.

Of the municipalities hosting the bases, the towns of Futaba and Okuma are hoping to see the evacuation order lifted for their bases in June and between late June and early July, respectively.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2022/05/16/national/katsurao-district-evacuation-order-lifting/

May 22, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

Evacuation order may be lifted in part of Fukushima ‘difficult-to-return’ zone

May 13, 2022

Officials in Japan plan to lift an evacuation order for part of the area designated as a “difficult-to-return” zone in Fukushima Prefecture due to high radiation levels from the 2011 nuclear accident.

An evacuation order remains in place for the Noyuki district, which covers about 20 percent of Katsurao Village.

Authorities aim to lift the order in about six percent of the district, which has received preferential treatment for decontamination work and infrastructure projects.

Sources say a briefing for residents about the result of the rebuilding work is scheduled for Sunday, after a delay due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The sources say officials from the central and prefectural governments and the village are making arrangements to lift the order on June 5 at the earliest.

It would be the first case in which people will be able to return to their homes in a “difficult-to-return” zone. Katsurao Village officials say eight people from four households are hoping to return to the area.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20220513_30/

May 15, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima village preparing for lifting of evacuation order

Radiation decontamination workers cut grass in a special reconstruction promotion area at Katsurao, Fukushima Prefecture, in November 2018.

Nov 22, 2021

Katsurao, Fukushima Pref. – The village of Katsurao in Fukushima Prefecture is set to bolster preparations for the lifting of government evacuation orders related to the 2011 nuclear accident.

Starting Nov. 30, the village will allow residents to come back and stay in a special reconstruction promotion area set up in the village in preparation for their permanent return, the office of the village announced Sunday.

The village plans to lift the evacuation order for the 95-hectare special area around spring 2022.

Katsurao and five other municipalities in the prefecture have set up special reconstruction promotion areas. Katsurao will be the first among them to carry out preparatory stays by residents in these specialized zones.

Fukushima is home to Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station, which was heavily damaged in the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami of 2011.

The village held a meeting Sunday on the planned preparatory stays. After village officials asked 18 residents who joined the meeting about the plan, the municipal and central governments decided the date to begin the preparatory stays.

Eighty-three people from 30 households had lived in the area designated for reconstruction before the nuclear accident.

The preparatory stays come as decontamination work and the construction of necessary infrastructure in the area were conducted as scheduled.

At the meeting, participants voiced concerns over radioactive contamination in the area.

In response, Katsurao Mayor Hiroshi Shinoki told reporters: “Safety and security are major issues. We aim to work for the lifting of the evacuation order while trying to obtain understanding from residents.”

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/11/22/national/fukushima-evacuation-lifting/

November 23, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment