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Japan lifts evacuation order over part of Fukushima town hit hard by nuclear disaster

A worker removes a no-entry sign following the lifting of the evacuation order in the Fukushima Prefecture town of Futaba, at 12:01 a.m. on March 4, 2020. (Mainichi/Daisuke Wada)

The Japanese government lifted an evacuation order on March 4 over part of a "difficult to return" zone in the Fukushima Prefecture town of Futaba, which was heavily hit by the disaster at the nuclear power plant it hosts.

The move, which came into effect at 12 a.m., marks the first time the government has lifted an evacuation order in such a zone, where access has been restricted due to heavy radioactive contamination in the wake of the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in March 2011.

Mandatory evacuation orders will similarly be lifted in the Fukushima Prefecture towns of Okuma on March 5, and Tomioka on March 10. On March 14, parts of the JR Joban Line that had been out of service due to the nuclear disaster, including stations in the three towns, will be resumed.

A total of 337 square kilometers in seven Fukushima municipalities where the yearly radiation exposure dosage topped 50 millisieverts had been categorized as difficult-to-return zones by 2013. The difficult-to-return areas subject to the lifting of the evacuation order in the three towns this time cover 0.54 square kilometers in total -- less than 1% of the total area. In deciding to lift the evacuation orders, the government judged that the yearly cumulative radiation dosage in the areas would fall to 20 millisieverts or less -- Japan's standard for lifting evacuation orders -- as the region has undergone decontamination work.

Altogether, 96% of the land in Futaba is designated as a difficult-to-return zone, and the remaining 4% is an area preparing for the lifting of an evacuation order. In Futaba, the evacuation orders for a total of 0.19 square kilometers in the difficult-to-return zone, including the plaza in front of JR Futaba Station, and all 2.21 square kilometers of the evacuation order cancellation preparation zone were lifted at 12 a.m. on March 4.

After the lifting of the evacuation order, people can freely enter the area, but due to a lack of infrastructure, they will not be able to live there.

An area around JR Futaba Station that is not subject to the lifting of the evacuation order this time was designated in September 2017 as a specified zone serving as a base for reconstruction and revitalization, and officials aim to lift the evacuation order and have residents return to the area in the spring of 2022.

(Japanese original by Tatsushi Inui, Iwaki Local Bureau)

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