FUKUSHIMA -- Though the nuclear disaster evacuation order for the Fukushima Prefecture village of Katsurao is set to be lifted on June 12, just 14 percent of demolition work needed before homes can be rebuilt has been completed.
The village currently comprises three evacuation statuses: "areas preparing for the lifting of evacuation orders" with annual accumulated radiation doses of 20 millisieverts or less; "restricted residency zones" with annual accumulated radiation doses from over 20 millisieverts to 50 millisieverts; and "difficult-to-return zones." As of June 12, the 1,347 residents from 418 households in the former two categories will be allowed to move back home. A return schedule for the 119 residents from 33 households with homes in areas in the last category has yet to be determined as radiation levels remain high.
A survey by the village government showed that nearly 50 percent of residents wished to return home. However, as of June 8 only 126 people, or less than 10 percent of residents, had registered to stay overnight in preparation for their complete return.
The Environment Ministry began demolishing houses in 2012 for those who wanted to rebuild their homes in 11 Fukushima Prefecture municipalities subject to nuclear disaster evacuation orders. Of 347 demolition requests in Katsurao, only 14 percent have been completed. Officials say that field research and paperwork are taking time. Overall, a little less than 40 percent of requested work has been done in all 11 municipalities.
Eight municipalities -- including Katsurao and the city of Minamisoma, where evacuation orders are to be lifted on July 12 -- are requesting the central government to speed up demolition work as the delay is hindering residents' return to their hometowns. A senior Katsurao village official says locals have been complaining about the demolition work not advancing as planned.
The Environment Ministry hopes to complete about 90 percent of demolition work by March 2017 by streamlining paperwork, but many residents are expected to be unable to return home even after evacuation orders are lifted, as it will take time to rebuild houses after the demolition is completed.
A ministry official explained that there are people who will be able to return home immediately after the evacuation order is lifted, and that it would be inappropriate to keep the orders in place until all the demolition work is done. At the same time, the official said that the ministry will give those who wish to return priority in the demolition work schedule.
Fukushima University social welfare professor Fuminori Tamba, who helped map out disaster recovery plans for municipalities under evacuation orders, pointed out that the lack of progress in demolitions is problematic, since securing housing is the minimum requirement for residents to return. He added that the availability of housing should be considered when lifting evacuation orders.
Katsurao farmer and cattle rancher Hidenori Endo, 74, applied for demolition of his decaying home and barn last summer. Tired of waiting, Endo paid a private firm nearly 10 million yen to tear down the buildings in May.
"I wanted to go home as soon as possible," Endo said.
He now lives in a temporary housing unit in the town of Miharu, about 30 kilometers from his Katsurao home. Endo travels an hour by car daily to his property to restart his farming business, but taking good care of his cattle is difficult to do going back and forth. To reboot his business, Endo first needs to rebuild his home. Construction work is to begin this summer, but he does not yet know when the work will be completed, and will have to live in the temporary housing for at least another year.
The central government has set prerequisites, such as infrastructure development and operation of everyday services, for lifting nuclear crisis evacuation orders. However, housing is not included in these criteria.
"Even if I could go shopping, there isn't much I could do if there was no place to live. It's not right to be unable to return to home even with the evacuation order gone," Endo lamented.