Evacuation order lifted for Katsurao reconstruction base, 1st in off-limits zone

The national government removed an evacuation order on June 12 for part of the Fukushima Prefecture village of Katsurao, which had been in place since the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant. The decision covers the village's Noyuki district -- one of the Specified Reconstruction and Revitalization Base Areas -- and was the first to apply to the so-called "difficult-to-return" zone, opening the way for people to resume residency in the zone. Also, it was the first time that an evacuation instruction has been eliminated in any of the reconstruction base areas established in six municipalities of the prefecture. It is expected that town building will accelerate in such areas, adding to the pace of the reconstruction process more than 11 years after the disaster. When the evacuation order was lifted at 8 a.m., an official of the central government's Local Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters declared the closed-off situation had just ended and a metal gate blocking the traffic on the village's main road was removed. Police cars, fire engines and other vehicles immediately moved into the district on a patrol mission. "This is a real start," village mayor Hiroshi Shinoki told reporters. "It is my responsibility to move ahead with the reconstruction efforts while taking into account the thoughts of residents here, and strive to bring our village back into what it was 11 years ago," he said, referring to the plans to resume farming and push for the homecoming of evacuees. The Noyuki district, located in the northeast of the village, was the municipality's sole area included in the difficult-to-return zone. In 2018, about 95 hectares of the 1,600-hectare district was designated as a reconstruction base area. Currently, the number of people with residence registration stands at 82 from 30 households. Eight of them from four households have shown their intention to return and reside there permanently. The village is faced with a number of challenging issues -- not only how to encourage homecomings and settlement but also how to revive communities and gain human resources for farming. Support measures fitting in with the realities are now required on the part of the national government following the removal of the evacuation order. Within the Noyuki district, 10 people from four households are registered with the small community of Kodeya, which sits outside the reconstruction base area. As it shares a living sphere with a similarly tiny community in the neighboring town of Namie, the local municipalities are urging the central government to push for measures that will be conducted for both communities together, including the decontamination and demolition of abandoned houses. Among other municipalities that have reconstruction base areas in the difficult-to-return zone, the towns of Futaba and Okuma, which host the crippled nuclear plant, are scheduled to see the evacuation order lifted in June or thereafter. The towns of Tomioka and Namie as well as Iitate village are to do so next spring. Prefecture to respect people's intentions, set up environments Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori has reiterated that the prefectural government will continue its efforts for reconstruction. "We will strive to establish environments while respecting residents' intentions of whether they will return or not, so that those who are willing to return will be able to live in their hometowns with peace of mind," he told a regular press conference on June 13 following the elimination of the evacuation order for the Noyuki district of Katsurao village. Uchibori said he talked with Katsurao mayor Shinoki over the phone on June 12 and quoted him as saying that the village is facing "various challenges" and that the removal of the order is "not a goal but a start." The governor replied that he completely agrees and pledged to extend support in cooperation with the organizations concerned, according to Uchibori. Photo: A gate was removed in Katsurao at 8 a.m. on June 12 after the lifting of the evacuation order for the Specified Reconstruction and Revitalization Base Area in the village. (Translated by Kyodo News)