The evacuation order for the town of Kawamata in Fukushima prefecture will be lifted next March, allowing residents to permanently return to their homes there, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has announced.
The evacuation zone for Kawamata, marked in red, is to be lifted in March 2017. The orange areas are those with restricted access, while entry to the pink area is allowed only in exceptional circumstances
In a 28 October statement, the ministry said the evacuation order for Kawamata would be lifted on 31 March 2017.
The town’s entire population of 15,877 people were evacuated after a large earthquake and tsunami struck the nearby Fukushima Daiichi plant on 11 March 2011. The loss of power at the plant led to core meltdowns at three of the plant’s six units, resulting in the spread of radioactive materials across the area.
Separate from the evacuation area defined by a 20 kilometre radius from Fukushima Daiichi, the area near Kawamata was evacuated once it was known that radioactive particles had been carried by the wind from the damaged power plant.
While limited access to the town had been permitted, METI relaxed controls on entry to most of Kawamata town, northwest of the plant, in August 2013. The redesignation allowed decontamination work to begin and for essential infrastructure and services to be reconstructed. Residents have been able to return at will to visit and work without the use of protective equipment. The only restriction has been that they may not stay overnight.
The radiation dose rate for a person living in Kawamata would be less than 20 millisieverts per year – the government’s benchmark for permanent return – METI said.
As of 1 August 2016, the number of Kawamata residents classed as evacuees totalled 1159, only 46 of which now live outside of Fukushima prefecture, according to figures from the prefectural government.
According to the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, Kawamata will be the seventh municipality to have its evacuation order lifted. As from April 2017, it says, evacuation orders will remain in effect in parts of five municipalities – the towns of Tomioka, Okuma, Namie and Futaba, as well as part of the village of Iitate.
The government aims to lift all evacuation orders by March 2017, except for certain areas where radiation levels are expected to remain high.