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Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Fukushima evacuees prepare for eventual return, but most are choosing not to

Evacuees from three Fukushima Prefecture localities who were displaced by the nuclear disaster started temporarily returning to their homes on Aug. 31 to prepare for their eventual permanent return.
But applicants for the temporary stay program that began that day totaled 1,265, less than 10 percent of about 14,000 eligible as of Aug. 30.
The small number indicates that an overwhelming majority of evacuees are still concerned about radiation levels and prospects for a return to normalcy in their hometowns.
Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori said a secure environment must be in place for evacuees to participate in the preparatory program.
“What is most important is to provide a sense of safety and security,” he said at a news conference on Aug. 31. “Evacuees will not readily join the program unless they have easy access to health care, education and shopping areas.”
Residents of parts of Minami-Soma, Kawamata and Katsurao were ordered by the central government to evacuate when a triple meltdown occurred at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant as a result of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
Last month, the government approved the program that would let evacuees from the three areas temporarily return to their homes for up to three months. The program is a step toward lifting the evacuation order and encouraging people to return home, as many have chosen to settle elsewhere after the prolonged evacuation.
In the village of Katsurao on Aug. 31, evacuee Kazuhiro Matsumoto, 59, was busy repairing the damaged walls of his home.
“It is nice to be back home, but I will miss my grandchildren after my return here,” Matsumoto said. “I am fixing my home because we need a place where my family and relatives can get together on New Year’s Day.”
While living in makeshift housing, Matsumoto has been working in cleanup operations in Katsurao for which his company was commissioned.
His son’s family of six already built a home outside the village and decided not to return to Katsurao to live.
Rice paddies across from Matsumoto’s home are overrun with weeds, with a large number of bags containing radioactive soil and other waste produced in decontamination operations piling up.
“Even though the authorities say we are safe, I am still anxious because we cannot see radiation,” he said.
The government plans to lift the evacuation order by spring 2017 for many parts of the evacuation area, which encompasses a 20-kilometer radius around the Fukushima plant and localities outside the zone that had high levels of radiation.
Officials from Minami-Soma, Kawamata and Katsurao hope to see the evacuation order lifted by next spring.
They have begun a preparatory program based on prospects that cleanup work will progress further in the coming months.
Local authorities say many general contractors will not accept assignments in the evacuation area. But they believe that work to mend local infrastructure and homes will proceed once evacuees are allowed to return home to live.
The number of residents who signed up for the preparatory program was low because many of the evacuees, primarily young couples, have decided to make a fresh start. They have purchased homes close to their workplaces or their children’s schools.
Four years after the onset of the nuclear disaster, about 79,000 people from 10 localities remain evacuated.
Source: Asahi Shimbun


Fukushima evacuees begin three-month stays in their homes ahead of final return

FUKUSHIMA – Evacuees from three municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture are being allowed to return home for long-term stays before the central government formally lifts the evacuation order for those areas.
The government says it made the move, which took effect Monday, because radiation levels have dropped sufficiently in Minamisoma, Kawamata and Katsurao since the March 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
The government will decide by November whether to lift the evacuation order after hearing from the evacuees.
The long-term stays are allowed for 14,255 people in 4,647 households, the largest number in the long-stay program so far.
Some areas will remain no-go zones because radiation levels remain high.
As of Monday, 1,308 people in 478 households, some 10 percent of the total, had reported to the government that they would start the long-term stays in their homes.
Decontamination work in residential areas in Kawamata and Katsurao was completed in summer last year, halving the average radiation level in the air to 0.5 microsievert per hour.
In Minamisoma, only 26 percent of decontamination work had been finished by the end of July, but natural falls in radiation levels were taken into consideration.
Dosimeters will be given to each household, while consultants will be dispatched to check the health status of residents. Minamisoma has set next April as its target date for the lifting of the evacuation order, while Katsurao and Kawamata are being less exact and have set the target for next spring.
Long-term stays have already been conducted in Tamura and part of Kawauchi, where evacuation orders have been removed, and in Naraha, where it is slated to be lifted on Wednesday.
Source: Japan Times

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