Fukushima evacuation order lifted after eight years
Nearly a decade after nuclear reactor suffered meltdown, local residents free to return home
The Japanese government has lifted the mandatory evacuation order around parts of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, eight years after a massive earthquake caused a meltdown in three of its reactors.
More than 10,000 local residents in the nearby town of town of Okuma were among nearly half a million people to flee the region in the immediate aftermath of the second-worst nuclear accident in history, after Chernobyl.
Ever since, “the government has pushed for an aggressive decontamination programme by removing topsoil, chopping trees and washing down houses and roads in contaminated areas, though experts say the effort only caused the contamination to move from one place to another, creating massive amounts of radioactive waste and the need for its long-term storage”, reports Al Jazeera.
Around 40% of the town has been declared safe for residents to return, The Daily Telegraph says, “although only 367 of the original residents have registered to go back to their homes”.
“Underlining the scale of the problem, the original centre of Okuma remains a no-go zone” says the paper, with the government aiming for the remainder of the city to be declared safe by 2022.
Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe called it “a major milestone for the town” and The Japan Times says “both the government and the town hope that the change will accelerate the revitalisation of the local community, but repopulation is expected to be slow, partly due to the few commercial and medical services in the area”.
The BBC, meanwhile, reports that “critics have accused the Japanese government of expediting residents’ return in an attempt to showcase safety standards ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics”.
Despite the best efforts of the authorities “concern over the possible health effects of exposure to radiation remains high among people from areas near the plant, particularly families with young children”, says The Guardian.
A poll by the Asahi newspaper and a local broadcaster found that almost two-thirds of evacuated residents felt anxious about radiation despite official claims that decontamination work had been a success.