Evacuation orders will be lifted shortly for four more municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture, but the prospect of residents returning to their old homes in huge numbers seems unlikely.
The restrictions, in place since the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011, will be lifted by April 1.
About 32,000 residents will be affected, but there is no guarantee that all will soon, if ever, return.
In similar past situations, evacuated residents came back in dribs and drabs, and many never returned.
Authorities in Namie on Feb. 27 decided to accept the central government’s proposal to lift the evacuation order for the town on March 31.
This means that orders for the municipalities of Kawamata and Iitate will be lifted the same day, and for Tomioka the day after.
Naraha and Katsurao are among five municipalities that are no longer subject to evacuation orders.
However, only 11 percent of Naraha residents and 9 percent of Katsurao residents have returned.
One reason for the low rates is that evacuees have already established new domiciles elsewhere. Others are concerned about the availability of medical workers in areas where evacuation orders will be lifted.
In the aftermath of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant triggered by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, the central government ordered the evacuation of 81,000 residents in 11 Fukushima municipalities.
In 2012-13, the evacuation region was redesignated into three zones: one where returning would continue to be difficult; another where residential areas would be limited; and lastly, where preparations would be made for former residents to return.
In June 2015, the government decreed that all evacuees from the two latter zones should be allowed to return by March 2017. Efforts were made to decontaminate land affected by radiation fallout and to restore social infrastructure.
The next step involves the 24,000 former residents of the zone where returning continues to be considered difficult.
The government intends to pay for the decontamination of certain areas within that zone so former residents can return.
According to one estimate, the program would only cover about 5 percent of the entire area that is designated as difficult to return.