A barrier set up at the difficult-to-return zone as Typhoon No. 10 approaches Okuma, which co-hosts the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, in Fukushima Prefecture on Aug. 30
Some of the most contaminated areas of Fukushima Prefecture rendered uninhabitable by the 2011 nuclear disaster will be declared safe to live in again in 2022.
The government’s decision to lift the partial ban on repatriation to the “difficult-to-return zone” was announced Aug. 31 after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called a joint meeting of the government’s Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters and Reconstruction Promotion Council.
By 2022, the area’s 24,000 or so residents will have been displaced for more than a decade and there is no way of knowing how many will choose to return to their hometowns.
The difficult-to-return zone encompasses seven municipalities situated in a 20-kilometer radius of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant as well as a spur of land northwest of the radius.
Partial lifting of the ban, in the eyes of the government, is reasonable as “radiation levels in the zone have dropped” even though no decommissioning work has been done there.
The government said the move is aimed at bolstering efforts to rebuild the prefecture, adding that leaving the zone intact would only perpetuate negative images of the area and sully the reputation of local products.
The ban will initially be lifted for areas where local government buildings, train stations and community halls are located, and eventually the rest of the zone.
There was no word, however, on how many years it will take for that to happen.
The government envisages enacting a law to designate areas earmarked as rebuilding hubs so as to encourage residents to return. The government will try to give priority to decisions by local officials as to which areas fall into that category.
In preparation for the lifting of the partial ban, the government will start extensive decontamination work in the zone from fiscal 2017, which begins next April.
The government estimates it would take 1 trillion yen ($9.7 billion) to clean up the entire zone, and is balking at making such an outlay on grounds of time and cost.
Even if the operation done on a limited basis, it is bound to come with a hefty price tag.
Funds needed for construction of housing and makeshift shops in the hub areas will be set aside in the government’s budget, starting from fiscal 2017.
According to government officials, some municipalities will likely to set up more than one rebuilding hub.
But one of the villages in the zone may end up having no hub at all due to depopulation.
A 2015 survey by the Reconstruction Agency found that the share of displaced people from Okuma, Futaba, Namie and Tomioka who expressed their intention to return to their hometowns varied from 11.4 percent to 17.8 percent. While the ratio was 32.8 percent for Iitate, no figures were available for Katsurao and Minami-Soma.