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Only 4% of kids in 4 disaster-hit Fukushima Pref. areas will attend reopened local schools

Residents of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, participate in a tour of a renovated public elementary and junior high school in the town on Dec. 17, 2017. (Mainichi)

FUKUSHIMA -- Only about 4 percent of schoolchildren in four Fukushima Prefecture municipalities affected by the 2011 nuclear disaster will attend local schools that are set to be reopened this coming April, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.

This is largely because many schoolchildren's families that evacuated to other regions have not returned to their hometowns as they have settled down in areas where they took shelter due to prolonged evacuation.

Following the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear crisis in March 2011, the national government issued evacuation orders in 11 municipalities in the prefecture. In nine of these municipalities, excluding the towns of Okuma and Futaba hosting the nuclear plant, the government had partially lifted evacuation orders by spring last year, stating that radiation levels had sufficiently declined and appropriate infrastructure had been built.

These municipalities began efforts to redevelop their communities by attracting new industries such as the decommissioning of the crippled nuclear reactors and renewable energy. However, only a small number of households, particularly those families with young children, have returned home. The occupancy rate of homes in areas where evacuation orders have been lifted is less than 20 percent and about half of those who are currently living in these municipalities are elderly people.

The four municipalities -- the towns of Namie and Tomioka and the villages of Iitate and Katsurao -- are set to reopen classes at local public schools in April this year, each setting up a school combining elementary and junior high courses. Following the nuclear accident, these four towns and villages set up temporary elementary and junior high schools in areas to which the entire communities had evacuated to continue classes.

The Namie and Tomioka municipal governments will operate schools both in their towns and in areas to which their residents have evacuated because many of them are taking shelter in areas relatively far from their hometowns. The Iitate and Katsurao municipal governments will reopen schools in their villages as many of their residents have sought shelter in areas from which it takes about an hour to travel to their home villages by car.

There were 482 school-age children who were registered as residents of Iitate at the time of the nuclear accident. Only 75 children wish to attend a local school, while 18 children in Katsurao, where 83 children were registered as residents at the time of the disaster's outbreak, wish to do so.

In Tomioka, 1,204 schoolchildren were registered as residents when the nuclear disaster broke out but only 16 want to go to local schools. In Namie, only 10 children wish to attend local schools out of some 1,440 were registered as residents in March 2011. The numbers of children who intend to attend local schools include those from families who moved into these municipalities after evacuation orders were lifted.

The enrollment ratios in Iitate and Katsurao, where many children intend to commute to local schools while taking shelter elsewhere, were higher than those in Namie and Tomioka.

These four municipalities, which regard local public schools as the core of efforts to revitalize their communities, are mainly utilizing state funds for disaster recovery to encourage as many local schoolchildren as possible to attend schools in their hometowns. Specifically, the municipalities will make school lunches and school excursions free, operate school buses, open free after-school lessons and carry out thorough decontamination of school playgrounds and school roads, among other measures.

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