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Evacuation order for Fukushima plant town to be lifted on April 10

This March 10, 2018 photo shows barricades installed in Okuma, a Fukushima Prefecture town near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, designated as an evacuated zone, after the nuclear disaster triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. (Kyodo)

FUKUSHIMA, Japan (Kyodo) -- A mandatory evacuation order for residents of a Japanese town that hosts the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant will be lifted for the first time in eight years, though partially, on April 10, government officials said Tuesday.

The town of Okuma, which had all of its roughly 10,000 residents evacuate after the deadly 2011 earthquake and tsunami that triggered one of the world's worst nuclear disasters, agreed to the date proposed by the government.

"We have determined the radiation level in the environment has fallen sufficiently as a result of decontamination work," said Yoshihiko Isozaki, the head of the government's nuclear emergency response headquarters.

"We took into account the town's wish to lift the order as soon as possible," Isozaki said at a press conference following a meeting with Okuma Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe at a temporary town office in Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture.

Watanabe had been seeking to have the order lifted so that the town's new office in one of the targeted areas could be opened as planned on April 14 and start operating on May 7.

"We've reached this stage at last, but there is no prospect of having the order lifted across the town," Watanabe said.

The evacuation order will remain in place for so-called difficult-to-return zones still registering high radiation levels.

As of the end of February, only 374 people were registered as residents of the targeted areas.

"People have the freedom to go back if they want to, but personally I am against living in areas where there are no children and no places to work," said a 72-year-old man, who has relocated to the nearby city of Iwaki.

"We don't know what's going to happen when they remove (nuclear) debris" at the crippled plant, co-hosted by the towns of Okuma and Futaba, he added.

On March 11, 2011, tsunami engulfed the six-reactor nuclear power plant located on the Pacific Coast, causing core meltdowns at the Nos. 1 to 3 reactors and hydrogen explosions at Nos. 1, 3 and 4 units in the following days and led to the world's worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl crisis.

At its peak, some 160,000 people were evacuated from their homes in Fukushima Prefecture and about 41,000 people remain displaced as of the end of February.

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