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Evacuation orders for Fukushima radioactive areas to be lifted without decontamination

A gate to the Nagadoro district of the village of Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, is seen in this picture taken on Aug. 24, 2020. The district was designated as a "difficult-to-return" zone in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. (Mainichi/Mina Isogai)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government is set to allow the lifting of evacuation orders for highly radioactive areas near the disaster-stricken Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station without decontamination work on condition that residents will not resettle there.

    The government on Aug. 26 disclosed the policy to the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) for the so-called "difficult-to-return" zones where residents have remained evacuated since the onset of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 due to high radiation doses in those areas in northeastern Japan. The NRA gave its consent to the government policy, paving the way for residents to enter areas outside the specified disaster reconstruction and revitalization base zones.

    The government has heretofore made it a condition for lifting the evacuation orders that: the radiation exposure doses will not exceed 20 millisieverts per year; infrastructure necessary for daily lives is developed and sufficient decontamination work is performed; and consultations are held with local bodies and residents. The government previously designated parts of the difficult-to-return zones as disaster recovery bases, which mainly lie in areas where local residents lived, and planned to lift the evacuation orders by 2023 after decontamination work and infrastructure development.

    Meanwhile, upon receiving a request from the village of Iitate in Fukushima Prefecture, the government has also been examining under which situations the evacuation directives can be lifted in areas outside the disaster recovery base areas.

    At a regular meeting on Aug. 26, the government explained its line of thinking that the evacuation orders can be lifted on conditions including: the annual radiation exposure doses are confirmed to be no more than 20 millisieverts; residents' radiation exposure doses are controlled by using personal dosimeters; and information to curb radiation exposure is provided. The government then sought the NRA's opinion on the matter.

    In response, the nuclear watchdog body evaluated the government's new policy and offered a view that "it is in essence the same" as the current conditions for lifting the nuclear evacuation orders.

    Upon receiving the NRA's stamp of approval, the government is set to hold a meeting of the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters and formally decide on the prerequisites for removing the evacuation orders in areas outside the disaster recovery bases. Following the decision, municipal governments will look into whether to lift their evacuation orders for their local areas.

    In Iitate village, the Nagadoro district has been designated as a difficult-to-return zone, dividing the village into a disaster recovery base and an area not designated as such. The Iitate Municipal Government is planning to develop a disaster restoration park in parts of a roughly 9-square-kilometer area that had few residents and falls outside the disaster recovery base, and requested the central government to allow the village to lift the evacuation order for the area at the same time as for the disaster recovery base.

    (Japanese original by Hisashi Tsukamoto and Yuka Saito, Science & Environment News Department)

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