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Fukushima town's local gov't services to resume 8 years after nuclear evacuation

Staff unpack boxes filled with documents relating to the nuclear evacuation at the new municipal government building in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, on April 22, 2019. (Mainichi/Daisuke Wada)

OKUMA, Fukushima -- Municipal government services in this town are resuming for the first time since the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster to coincide with the beginning of the new "Reiwa" era.

A map of the services move back to Okuma.

After coastal Okuma was evacuated eight years ago, administrative services relating to the town had been carried out at the inland city of Aizuwakamatsu, some 100 kilometers away, in the same prefecture in northeastern Japan.

The move to Okuma's new municipal government building began just after 9 a.m. on April 22. Hirohide Shiga, head of the town's property custody section, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "It feels like we're finally at the starting line in our reconstruction efforts." Okuma's more than 11,000 residents were forced to evacuate after the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station failed in the wake of the tsunami.

On April 10 this year, evacuation orders for some parts of the town were lifted, paving the way for its revival. Municipal government services will recommence on May 7 at the new building, less than one week after the beginning of the Reiwa era.

Immediately around the site, signs of the past are still apparent. Shuttered homes and fields overgrown with weeds are a common sight. Masaaki Suenaga, 75, a former construction worker in Okuma, spoke about the nuclear industry's effect on the town. "We were told nuclear power was safe and secure, that was what we thought."

At the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant about 8 kilometers away, work on decommissioning the plant continues. Since March 2011, the public's belief in nuclear safety has collapsed, and the number of voices calling for a society reliant on other energy sources has risen. But in areas outside the tsunami damaged Tohoku region, memories of the disaster are fading, with nuclear power plants restarting.

On the first floor of Okuma's new municipal government building, a banner reads "Dawn of the revival." It remains to be seen if their wish will be granted in the new era.

(Japanese original by Atsushi Matsumoto, City News Department)

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