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Proportion of elderly people high in Fukushima areas after lifting of evacuation orders

A shopping street remains empty after sundown in the Fukushima Prefecture town of Tomioka, on March 11, 2019. (Mainichi/Yohei Koide)

FUKUSHIMA -- The average age of residents in parts of Fukushima Prefecture where nuclear disaster evacuation orders have been lifted remains high as young people appear reluctant to move back to those places, an ongoing Mainichi Shimbun questionnaire has shown.

The proportion of elderly people aged 65 or over stands at 45.5 percent in parts of nine Fukushima Prefecture municipalities that have seen the lifting of evacuation orders that were enforced in the wake of the March 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, the questionnaire shows.

The figure is 1.7 percentage points lower than a year before, but indicates that many young people are reluctant to return to the municipalities, as there are lingering fears of the effects of radiation and they have already established bases for work and school elsewhere.

The Mainichi Shimbun has investigated the proportion of elderly people aged 65 or over in municipalities where evacuations orders have been lifted every six months since the summer of 2017. In July and August 2017, the figure stood at 49.2 percent. It dipped to 47.2 percent in January and February 2018, and 45.6 percent in July to August 2018.

At the time of the latest questionnaire in January and February this year, there were 10,978 people living in such areas, of which 4,990 were aged 65 or older. The proportion of elderly people over the whole prefecture stood at 31.1 percent as of February -- significantly lower than in the municipalities in question. The proportion of elderly people in the areas where evacuation orders have been lifted is also higher than the estimate of 38.4 percent that the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research expects for Japan in 2065.

In a census carried out in 2010 before the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station the proportion of elderly people throughout the nine municipalities reached just 27.4 percent.

In the areas where evacuation orders have been lifted, the proportion of those aged under 15 stood at 5 percent (549 people). This figure was 0.4 percentage points than a year earlier, but still far below the 13.1 percent (23,717 people) seen before the nuclear disaster.

This fiscal year, the towns of Namie and Tomioka, the Yamakiya district of the town of Kawamata, and the villages of Iitate and Katsurao reopened local elementary and junior high schools, but just 142 children are attending those school -- not even 4 percent of the figure seen before the nuclear disaster.

There remains a lack of infrastructure in disaster-hit areas following the lifting of evacuation orders, and with lingering fears about the effects of radiation, those rearing children have been reluctant to actively return to those areas. Overall, only 23 percent of those registered as living in those areas are actually living there.

(Japanese original by Toshiki Miyazaki, Fukushima Bureau)

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