Evacuees still wary of returning

[Translated by The Japan Times] An evacuation order for part of the Miyakoji district of Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture, was lifted April 1, but many residents haven’t returned yet because of lingering concerns about radiation. They are also worried about the lack of jobs, shops and medical services. The area was the first in the 20-km-radius exclusion zone set up around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant after the March 2011 meltdowns to have its evacuation order canceled. Of the 357 residents and 117 households registered as of the end of February, only one family had returned by April 10. This means the tally hasn’t climbed much from the 90 people and 27 households that had entered the long-stay program as of March. Masami Konnai, 62, a board member of Miyakoji’s Jikenjo district, who returned with his wife and father last August as part of the long-stay program, put up Children’s Day carp streamers in his garden for the first time since the disaster to welcome his 5-year-old grandson, who will visit next month. “I also want to show that people are living here,” Konnai said. “I want others to see that the area is moving toward restoration.” Konnai and other residents plan to resume community cleaning activities and hold a summer festival at the nearby shrine to revitalize the district. The government ended its decontamination work in the area last June. It then let people apply for long-term stays in August so they could make preparations for returning to their homes. The central and municipal governments suggested lifting the evacuation order in November, but demurred after residents feared that proper living conditions hadn’t been established. The decision was finally made in February. Even in a part of Miyakoji that is more than 20 km away from the nuclear plant and where more than 80 percent of the town’s population used to live, only 30 percent of the residents have returned since the evacuation order was lifted in September 2011. To improve living conditions in Miyakoji as a whole, the municipal government opened two shopping facilities on April 6 and reopened three elementary and junior high schools on April 7. A convenience store is expected to open this autumn. In an area within 20 km of the plant, however, there are still places giving off radiation beyond the long-term reduction goal of 1 millisievert per year, or 0.23 microsieverts per hour. Many young families are hesitant to go back because of radiation, lack of sufficient medical services and employment, and the fact that they have settled into the places they evacuated to. And of the 152 students enrolled in the schools, 60 percent are commuting by bus from such locations. To back the government’s policy of encouraging returnees, Tepco will offer one-off compensation payments of ¥900,000 to people who return within a year of the order being lifted. But the monthly allowances of ¥100,000 for psychological damage will end a year from now. This section, appearing every third Monday, focuses on topics and issues covered by the Fukushima Minpo, the largest newspaper in Fukushima Prefecture. The original article was published on April 11. PHOTO:Children walk to Furumichi Elementary School, which reopened on April 7 in the Miyakoji district in the city of Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture. The shopping facility, which opened the day before, is seen in the background. Right: Masami Konnai looks at carp streamers in front of his house in Miyakoji in April.