15 April, 2019
Okuma Town Becomes First Nuclear Hosting Municipality to Have Evacuation Orders Partially Lifted
On April 10, the Japanese government lifted evacuation orders for the Okawara and Nakayashiki Districts of Okuma Town (Fukushima Prefecture), issued after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident of March 11, 2011. It was the first time an order was lifted for either of the two municipalities hosting the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant(NPP): Okuma and Futaba Towns.
The Okawara District of Okuma Town had been designated an area where “living is not permitted,” while Nakayashiki District was designated an area where “an evacuation order will soon be lifted.” Together, the two account for approximately 38 percent of the combined area of the two towns (approximately 79 square kilometers).
Only 367 people (138 households), some 3.5 percent of the combined town populations of 10,341, were registered as residents as of the end of March.
A new town office constructed in the Okawara District had its opening ceremony on April 14, and is slated to begin operations on May 7 (after the ten-day Golden Week holiday period), with a staff of one hundred persons.
The available housing for staff members, however, is limited to just twenty-six units, so most will commute from outside the town, from Minamisoma, Koriyama and elsewhere. The other residents will begin moving in June into fifty post-disaster units publicly constructed near the new office. Additional public housing available for leasing will be developed as well.
Residents are expected to be slow in returning, however, in part because many have reestablished themselves in other municipalities during the prolonged evacuation of more than eight years. Additionally, various public and commercial services in the Okawara District could not be restored or redeveloped in advance of the lifting of the evacuation order.
Okuma Town will establish a temporary commercial facility, while medical services will be provided by institutions in the adjacent Tomioka Town, using a circulating vehicle. The town will also institute a new program subsidizing moving expenses up to JPY200,000 (around USD1,785 at USD1=112.02) per household for families moving back.
Meanwhile, the former central part of the town remains designated as an area where residents “will not be able to return home for a long time.” Approximately ten thousand people are thus expected to continue living as evacuees outside Fukushima Prefecture.
The central government will also establish a Specific Reconstruction and Recovery Base Area of about 860 hectares, including the JR (Japan Railways) Ōno Station, and will demolish houses and carry out decontamination there. The aim is to lift the evacuation order in the spring of 2022, enabling more people to live in the town again