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Evacuated Fukushima town planning for residents' return in fall 2017

FUKUSHIMA -- A prefectural town that has been entirely evacuated since the March 2011 Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant meltdowns is aiming to have some areas reopened to residents in autumn this year, town officials have told the Mainichi Shimbun.

Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, is currently covered by three classes of evacuation order. The town's eastern region and much of the northern region are designated as "difficult to return zones," while the southwestern and western regions are categorized as "restricted residency" and "evacuation order cancellation preparation" zones, respectively. Okuma officials are aiming to have the latter two designations rescinded, opening the way for residents to move back in. If successful, Okuma would be the first of the two municipalities hosting the plant (the other is the town of Futaba) to allow residents back.

Okuma is also planning to designate one small area as the town's "recovery base," and build a new municipal office in fiscal 2019.

According to Okuma officials, they intend to allow residents back into the evacuation zones to sleep in their homes as early as August. However, the program will not be implemented in the "difficult to return zone."

Most of the area covered by the two other evacuation order types are mountain wilderness, with just 384 registered residents -- 3.6 percent of Okuma's population -- in the districts of Ogawara and Chuyashiki. Decontamination work in both districts was completed in March 2014, and basic services including water and electricity have been restored. The Okuma Municipal Government is set to discuss the exact date when residents will be allowed back with central government officials and the town assembly.

Okuma is planning to build its new town hall, a seniors' home, and public housing for some 3,000 residents and Fukushima nuclear plant decommissioning workers, among other facilities, in its some 40-hectare "recovery base" in the town's Ogawara district. Municipal government staff began working weekdays at a contact office there in April 2016. Meanwhile, large solar power installations as well as dormitories for Tokyo Electric Power Co. employees have already been built around the planned "recovery base" area.

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