Japan govt. lifts exclusion order in 1st municipality around Fukushima plant

Waste containing radiated soil, leaves and debris from the decontamination operation are collected next to a sign board reading "Gate valve of drinking water" in Naraha town © Issei Kato
The Japanese government has lifted an evacuation order around the exclusion-zone town of Naraha, in the Fukushima Prefecture. It was the first of seven municipalities affected by the fallout from the 2011 catastrophe at the nuclear power plant.

Two exclusion orders were lifted in April and October last year, in the Miyakoji district and the village of Kawauchi respectively. But Naraha has been on the cards since 2012, as the authorities eyed it for re-designation. It is also the first major municipality to get a green light in the immediate vicinity of the power plant.

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The zone itself is about 20km, with most of Naraha located inside it. In 2011, a powerful earthquake that hit east Japan caused a powerful tsunami and power outages at the plant, leading to reactor meltdowns.

The town is “at the starting line at last,” the Japan Times quoted Mayor Yukiei Matsumoto as telling reporters on Saturday, as 7,400 residents that live within the 20km perimeter should begin restarting their lives there in the near future. Naraha was the first to evacuate, following the tragedy.

But levels have finally fallen below anything witnessed in the past four years, leading to the lifting of the evacuation order overnight. However, residents are cautious. They know Naraha is a test case.

Only about 100 families have chosen to return, of the total 2,600 or so households. But the trial period has been underway since April, and, according to a government survey, about 46 percent are hoping to return. They’ll be given dosimeters to allay any fears of radiation poisoning.

Aside from health concerns, there is also a lack of infrastructure. 

Medical services will begin functioning in the area, but only in the form of emergency buzzers, which households can use in the event of a sudden illness, particularly affecting the elderly.

Free delivery by a local supermarket was launched in July, and a mall, containing another supermarket, will open its doors in 2016.
To keep things in check, water will be tested around the clock at a local filtration plant.

TEPCO, meanwhile, continues to decommission the battered plant, with millions more projected to be spent on the process, and decades before the immediate area can be considered fit for living.