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23% of residents have returned to former Fukushima hazard zones

A voluntary evecuee from Fukushima Prefecture and her son stroll around the venue of a festival in Yonezawa in the neighboring prefecture of Yamagata in February 2019. (Kyodo)

FUKUSHIMA, Japan (Kyodo) -- Only 23 percent of residents registered with nine municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture that were formerly designated as hazard zones after the 2011 nuclear disaster have returned, local authorities said Thursday.

    The central government began lifting evacuation orders in 2014, but of the 47,721 certified residents of the nine municipalities in northeastern Japan, 11,003 individuals currently live in their hometowns.

    The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant spewed radioactive materials following a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that flooded the facility on March 11, 2011.

    Following the crisis, the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, around 160,000 people were evacuated at one point and over 32,000 people remained in other prefectures as of January this year.

    The government has allowed residents to return home as decontamination work proceeds, but concerns about radioactivity appear to be preventing some evacuees from returning, officials said.

    The evacuation order for the Miyakoji district of the city of Tamura was lifted in April 2014 and currently 81.3 percent of its registered residents live there.

    Among areas where hazard designations were lifted between 2015 and 2016, 41.4 percent of registered residents live in Minamisoma, where restrictions in most parts of the city have been lifted, and 52.2% live in the town of Naraha, due in part to efforts to revitalize its residential and commercial areas. It also provided free temporary housing near the town until the end of March 2018.

    On the other hand, areas where restrictions were lifted comparatively late have lower residency rates, with only 6.1 percent of individuals registered with the town of Namie living there after evacuees were allowed to return in the spring of 2017. Similarly, 9.2 percent registered with the town of Tomioka live there, as do 18.4 percent in the village of Iitate.

    The towns of Futaba and Okuma, where the Daiichi nuclear power plant is located, remain no-go areas. Although evacuation orders for parts of Okuma are set to be lifted this spring, there is little sign so far that many evacuees plan to return.

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