TOKYO -- About 80 percent of 45 administrative district heads inside six municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture with areas rendered difficult to live because of the March 2011 nuclear accident said it is impossible for enough evacuated residents to return to meet population goals at "reconstruction hub areas" set by those local governments, a Mainichi Shimbun survey has found.
The heads said meeting those goals as part of recovery efforts is not possible because many of the evacuees now have new jobs and homes, and aging is advancing among them. The survey results placed a question mark on the feasibility of the local governments' recovery plans.
The population goals for the northern Japan municipalities are set for around 2027 or 2028, five years after evacuation orders for difficult to return areas would presumably be lifted in 2022 or 2023. The numbers are calculated based on evacuees' positive or undecided responses to opinion polls conducted by the municipalities.
The reconstruction hub areas receive national funding for decontamination and will have concentrated residential areas and infrastructure. They were incorporated in a special law for the reconstruction of Fukushima areas affected by the nuclear disaster, and the six municipalities received the central government's approval for their reconstruction hub plans and their population goals by the spring of this year.
The population goals were 2,000 for the town of Futaba, 2,600 for the town of Okuma, 1,500 for the town of Namie, 1,600 for the town of Tomioka, 180 for the village of Iitate and 80 for the village of Katsurao.
The Mainichi survey of the administrative district heads was conducted by mail and other means from July through August of this year. Questionnaires were sent to 59 heads, and 45 of them responded. Of the total respondents, 37 said it is impossible to meet the goals, while six said it is conceivable, and the remaining two gave other answers.
When asked why they think that the population goals are not feasible, 16 said it is because evacuees established their base of living in new places, while 10 cited fear of radiation. Five said it is because the evacuees are aging.
A local head in Futaba said seven years of life in refuge was "too long," while an official from Okuma pointed out that young people are especially worried about radiation. Another local leader from Okuma said aged people will not return unless medical and other facilities are available.
Local heads with positive responses said meeting the population goals depends on the influx of new residents who would move to their districts to carry out work decommissioning the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant operated by the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO). The plant's three reactors leaked massive amounts of radioactive materials after fuel rods in their cores melted because of cooling system shutdowns triggered by the massive earthquake and tsunami. The six municipalities around the plant became contaminated by the fallout.
After the nuclear accident, 11 cities, towns and villages came under government evacuation orders. Currently, entry is restricted at all of Futaba and Okuma, where the plant is located, as well as parts of Namie, Tomioka, Iitate and Katsurao. Even in areas where evacuation orders are lifted, populations are around 20 percent of the registered numbers of residents.
Associate professor Fuminori Tanba of Ritsumeikan University, a specialist on social welfare, explained that the population goals reflect the hopeful expectations of those municipalities counting on the inflow of decommission workers and researchers, and they are different from the perception of evacuees. "Town planning should be done by seeking the participation of returning evacuees, those going back and forth between their old and new homes, and new residents including plant workers," said Tanba. "They should have plans suitable for returnees, and it is important to have plans going beyond municipal boundaries and assigning different roles to towns and villages involved.
(Japanese original by Toshiki Miyazaki and Keita Kishi, Fukushima Bureau)