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Nuclear disaster evacuation order covering 10,000 Minamisoma residents lifted

A man gazes out the window of a train on the JR Joban Line between Odaka Station and Haranomachi Station, in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, on July 12, 2016. A temporary holding place for radioactively contaminated soil is visible outside the window. (Mainichi)

MINAMISOMA, Fukushima -- Some 10,000 Minamisoma residents were officially permitted to return home after Fukushima nuclear disaster evacuation orders covering parts of the city were lifted on July 12.

    Eleven municipalities near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant were evacuated after the March 2011 meltdowns, but this is the first order to be lifted covering so many people. However, as five years and four months have passed since the disaster and concerns about radiation persist, many evacuees have already put down roots elsewhere, and only a portion of residents are expected to return.

    The order covered 3,487 households totaling 10,807 people in the city's southern Odaka and Haramachi wards. Only one household of two people in a high-radiation area was not cleared to return. However, as of July 10 only 2,006 people from 691 households had registered to stay in the area in preparation for moving back. Many problems face the city, such as how to sustain communities where most child-bearing-age residents have not returned and elderly residents predominate.

    July 12 also marked the resumption of train services on the JR Joban Line on the 9.4 kilometer stretch between Odaka and Haranomachi stations. Many passengers this day were gazing out the train windows at the rural landscape, while residents could be seen by the tracks holding a banner reading "Welcome back" and waving.

    At a ceremony at Odaka Station for the lifting of the evacuation order, Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai said, "This is not the end of our reconstruction, it is the beginning."

    Sachiko Shoji, 60, who evacuated from the Fukushima Prefecture town of Namie to temporary housing in Minamisoma's Haramachi Ward, said after riding on the Joban Line, "This train line is memorable for me as the one I used to go from Namie to Haramachi to attend barber school. As I saw the nostalgic scenery, I thought that I, too, have to keep trying to move forward."

    The parts of the Joban Line still closed to service -- between Soma Station in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, and Hamayoshida Station in Watari, Miyagi Prefecture, and between Tatsuta Station in Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture, and Odaka Station -- are to be reopened this year and by March 2020, respectively.

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