A new system in which evacuation orders can be lifted in "difficult-to-return" zones in Fukushima Prefecture in northeastern Japan without the national government decontaminating the zones will be set up, indicating a turnabout in the state's recovery policy for the ongoing Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station crisis.
Since the onset of the nuclear disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima nuclear plant, the recovery policy had been premised on decontamination.
Of the difficult-to-return zones, there are six towns and villages that serve as "recovery bases," which are former downtown areas and other types of land that are being decontaminated so that people can live there again. But such bases comprise just 8% of all difficult-to-return zones.
The new system will permit free entry into the remaining difficult-to-return areas on the condition that no one will live there, and that people will only use them as parks and other facilities.
While complete decontamination for such areas will no longer be required, the government plans to keep the criteria that radiation levels must go down before evacuation orders for these zones can be lifted. The Nuclear Regulation Authority has agreed with this plan.
What triggered this reversal in policy is a request submitted to the government by the Fukushima prefectural village of Iitate in February. Just a portion of the village is still under evacuation orders. Iitate sought the lifting of evacuation orders for the entire zone, without insisting on the decontamination of areas outside recovery bases.
The other five towns and villages are not following suit, however. Rather, some of them have voiced concerns that the government has no prospects of decontaminating areas outside recovery bases, and will force them to follow the "Iitate model."
The new system must be considered an exception that can only be applied when a town or village seeks its application. It must not be extended.
The government must first indicate a policy on how it will proceed with the lifting of evacuation orders of areas outside recovery bases.
This is something that local towns and villages have long been seeking from the government.
The law stipulates that pollution resulting from a nuclear incident is the responsibility of the national government. If the new policy is implemented, that responsibility will likely become blurred.
It is probably the huge expense of decontamination that is slowing down the government. There are many residents who are still torn between going back to their hometowns in Fukushima and staying elsewhere. And one reason for that is the government's lack of clear leadership. We must not allow decisions to be postponed any longer.
Nearly a decade has passed since the onset of the disaster, and the differences in circumstances by community are increasingly standing out. In some places where the majority of the land is difficult-to-return, reconstruction and recovery have only just begun.
The national government must proceed with its recovery policy while taking into consideration the circumstances and intentions of each and every community.