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Fukushima aims to attract new residents

A sign gives notice of decontamination and building demolition in areas categorized as difficult-to-return zones within Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture.

September 20, 2021

FUKUSHIMA – The central and local governments have begun encouraging people from outside Fukushima Prefecture to move into areas surrounding Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, hoping that new residents will revive the areas.

The central government plans to lift evacuation orders in all areas categorized as difficult-to-return zones so that residents wishing to return to their homes can do so within the 2020s. However, in areas where such an order has already been lifted, residents have been slow to return.

300 newcomers sought

I’ve long wanted to contribute to the reconstruction of Fukushima, said Daisuke Yamamoto, 49, an engineer who moved from Sapporo to the city of Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture, in August.

Yamamoto said he aimed to set up his own business there.

The central government’s financial support system, which began in July, encouraged him to move in. The system grants up to 2 million Yen to those who move into 12 municipalities near the nuclear plant from outside the prefecture. Additional funds of up to 4 million Yen will be paid if they launch a business there. The government’s goal is to bring in 300 new people this fiscal year alone.

Local municipalities are preparing for new residents. In July, the Fukushima prefectural government set up a joint support center with the 12 municipalities. In Minami-Soma, vacant houses will be renovated into rental housing. In the village of Katsurao, eight units of municipal apartment housing will be constructed.

10% want to return

Behind the move is the slow return of residents to areas where the evacuation orders were lifted. The Reconstruction Agency and others surveyed the residents of five towns, including Futaba and Okuma, and found that only about 10% wanted to return.

The town of Namie, where the evacuation order was partially lifted in 2017, now has a population of 1,717. In fiscal 2019, 70 people in 49 households moved into the town from outside the prefecture, thanks in part to the presence of factories opened by 10 companies, but the population is still only about a tenth of its pre-disaster size.

The only way to keep the town going is to further increase the number of new arrivals, a town official said.

Commuting, restoring

Over 10 years after the nuclear accident, people who have rebuilt their lives in areas to which they evacuated will have the option of having residences in two locations, commuting to Fukushima Prefecture while carrying on with their present lives elsewhere.

A 66-year-old man who moved his family to Hitachi, Ibaraki Prefecture, has a home in an area categorized as a difficult-to-return zone in Namie. In order to return to that home, he would need to repair the now dilapidated house. His children have found jobs in Ibaraki. The man’s life in Ibaraki, where he grows vegetables in rented fields, has become settled.

I have no choice but to spend two hours each way to get to and from Fukushima, he said.

In a survey conducted last fiscal year by the towns of Futaba, Okuma and Tomioka on their residents, about 60% said they wanted to maintain ties with their hometowns.

The evacuation order for Naraha was lifted in 2015, but the number of residents in the town now has leveled off at 50% of the population before the accident. The town aims to raise the figure to 60% by 2030, or 5,130 people, by subsidizing JR train fares for residents who live in two locations.

The town of Tomioka supports residents who have been evacuated outside the town in the hope of bringing about reconstruction by commuting. It opened social center and support office facilities in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, and Saitama City, which are two places where many evacuated Tomioka residents now live. In those facilities, staff check up on the health of the evacuees or give counseling.

Those who want to go home someday will become important people for the progress of reconstruction, said Yusuke Yamashita, a sociology professor at Tokyo Metropolitan University. The central and local governments should continue to provide assistance from the perspective of reconstruction by commuting.

September 20, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , , | Leave a comment

Reconstruct ‘difficult-to-return zones’ in keeping with residents’ wishes



In consideration of the feelings of evacuees who want to return home, it is important to promptly present a specific picture of how towns affected by the nuclear disaster will be reconstructed.

Regarding the “difficult-to-return zones” designated following the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the government has announced a policy of designating priority areas and carrying out full-scale decontamination work there starting next fiscal year.

Entry remains strictly restricted for the difficult-to-return zones, where the yearly dose of radiation was higher than 50 millisieverts as of March 2012. This is the first time for the government to announce a policy of allowing evacuees to eventually return home in the zones.

The zones spread over seven municipalities around the Fukushima plant, including the towns of Okuma, Futaba and Namie.

The latest policy is characterized by the government establishing “reconstruction bases” that center around town offices and railway stations, and drawing up development plans exclusively for the base areas. The government will implement the development of infrastructure, including roads, concurrently with the decontamination work. It aims to lift the evacuation orders for residents in the year 2022, making it possible for evacuees to return home.

To decontaminate the entire area within the difficult-to-return zones will require a sizable amount of money. It is an appropriate measure to move ahead with the decontamination work by narrowing down the target area from the viewpoint of pursuing efficiency.

In areas where the radiation dose is relatively low, namely areas where residence is restricted and where preparations are being made for the lifting of evacuation orders, evacuation orders have already been rescinded for five municipalities. Another four municipalities have also taken such measures as allowing residents to return home for long-term stays, with the aim of lifting the evacuation orders next spring.

Limited progress in returns

However, in areas where evacuation orders have already been lifted, there has not been as much progress in residents’ return as was hoped. Even in the town of Naraha, for which evacuation orders were lifted last autumn and which is considered a model case for residents’ return, only about 10 percent of residents have come back.

There has not been sufficient development of bases closely linked to people’s daily life, such as medical institutions and commercial facilities. This can be a primary factor in evacuees’ reluctance to return home. Younger generations also have strong concerns about their jobs and their children’s education following their return.

Even if residents of the difficult-to-return zones were able to return, that would be six years from now. It would be difficult for residents to plan for their daily life.

At the moment, matters such as where the reconstruction bases can be located and the details of development plans have yet to be decided. It is important to show residents early on how their hometowns would be reconstructed, so as to fulfill evacuees’ wishes of returning home.

Many evacuees have given up on returning home and rebuilt their lives within or outside Fukushima Prefecture. According to a survey taken last year by the Reconstruction Agency, only 11 percent of evacuees from Okuma and 13 percent of those from Futaba — the towns straddled by the plant — said they want to return home.

How should towns be reconstructed to induce evacuees to consider returning? Each municipality is urged to carefully take up the wishes of evacuees and reflect them in the development plans.

As Fukushima’s reconstruction progresses, the government needs to continue doing its utmost in assisting the prefecture so as not to have the difficult-to-return zones become “left-behind areas.”

September 20, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , | Leave a comment

News Navigator: How far has decontamination progressed in Fukushima?



The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about the decontamination of areas that were heavily exposed to radiation in the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant.

Question: What is the situation right now with the decontamination of areas that were exposed to radioactive materials in the Fukushima nuclear incident, where residents were ordered to evacuate?

Answer: In April 2012, areas that were under evacuation orders were separated into three categories based on annual radiation exposure dosages. Decontamination work has not been carried out in areas of the Fukushima Prefecture towns of Okuma, Futaba, Namie, Tomioka, and the prefectural villages of Iitate and Katsurao and the city of Minamisoma — classified as “difficult-to-return zones” with annual radiation exposure dosages topping 50 millisieverts — save for a few areas that were decontaminated on a trial basis.

Meanwhile, in “restricted residence zones,” where the annual radiation exposure dosage is between 20 and 50 millisieverts, and in “preparing for lifting of evacuation order zones,” which have annual radiation exposure dosages of 20 millisieverts or lower, the government is aiming to have decontamination completed by March 2017.

Q: Why haven’t “difficult-to-return zones” been decontaminated?

A: In addition to the fact that all residents had evacuated, it was determined immediately after the disaster broke out that decontamination efforts would be ineffective because of the high levels of radiation there. However, radiation has the property of decreasing as time passes. Indeed, according to measurements taken by an airplane that was released by the Nuclear Regulation Authority in February this year, radiation levels had gone down significantly. And in some areas, where decontamination was attempted on a trial basis, there was some success.

Q: How much does radiation go down through the decontamination process?

A: According to the Environment Ministry, in a trial decontamination of the Akougi district in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture — designated a “difficult-to-return zone” — radiation levels went down by half. However, a ministry official explains that radiation levels there cannot be brought down to zero because even if the area is decontaminated, radiation seeps in via rain and other means.

Q: What is done with the waste that results from decontamination?

A: The Environment Ministry estimates that 16 million to 22 million cubic meters of radioactively contaminated waste will result from decontamination work. That waste will be stored temporarily in municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture, then transported to interim storage facilities in the prefectural towns of Okuma and Futaba. However, only 5 percent of the entire land area needed for storing radioactive waste had been secured as of late July. (Answers by Hanayo Kuno, Science and Environment News Department)

September 5, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , , , | Leave a comment