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Some residents of Fukushima village can finally return home in June

Katsurao Mayor Hiroshi Shinoki speaks at a press conference in Katsurao, Fukushima Prefecture, on May 16, 2022. (Kyodo)

FUKUSHIMA, Japan (Kyodo) -- Some residents who used to live in part of a Fukushima village that is still off-limits due to high radiation levels from the 2011 nuclear disaster will finally be allowed to return home as an evacuation order will be lifted on June 12, officials said Monday.

    Even more than a decade after the disaster, a zone totaling about 337 square kilometers remains subject to the order. Of the "difficult-to-return" zone, authorities have decided to end the designation for a 0.95 square km area in Katsurao, a village near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, as radiation decontamination has progressed.

    After the nuclear crisis was triggered by an enormous earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, Katsurao became off-limits in its entirety. But the long-standing evacuation order was lifted in most parts of the village on June 12, 2016, besides a district being designated as the zone.

    Katsurao Mayor Hiroshi Shinoki said at a press conference that the village has reached agreement with Fukushima prefectural and government officials to lift the order for the small portion in the zone on the same date as six years ago.

    "(The removal) will be a start instead of a goal," said Masahiro Ishii, a senior vice minister at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

    In the 16-square-km off-limits district in the northeastern part of the village, residents have been practicing overnight stays since November in preparation for their full-scale returns, while the pace of decontamination work and efforts to improve infrastructure has been accelerating.

    Among other five Fukushima municipalities which encompass the zone, the towns of Futaba and Okuma have been preparing to lift restrictions in June at the earliest, while the rest are planning to remove them in spring next year.

    Most parts of the prefecture have already permitted people to return home. In March 2020, East Japan Railway Co. resumed all train lines in northeastern Japan devastated by the disaster by opening a 20.8-km stretch between Tomioka and Namie stations near the nuclear plant, the last section that had remained suspended.

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