March 22, 2018
Close to a year after evacuation orders were lifted in four municipalities near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, only 6.1 percent of evacuees have returned to live in their former communities.
According to a survey of displaced residents, the top reasons cited for not returning were the condition of their homes, concerns about radiation and the lack of hospitals and stores.
The Asahi Shimbun has conducted annual surveys of evacuees since June 2011 with Akira Imai, a senior researcher at the Japan Research Institute for Local Government.
In the latest survey, questionnaires were sent in mid-January to 329 individuals who participated in past surveys. Valid responses were received from 161 individuals now residing in 19 prefectures around Japan aged between 28 and 91.
Of the respondents, 114 were still living as evacuees.
Close to 70 percent of the respondents said the measures taken by the central and local governments leading up to the lifting of the evacuation order on March 31 and April 1, 2017, were insufficient.
Regarding those results, Imai said, “The lifting of the evacuation order was conducted without adequate consideration for the hopes of the evacuees to have their communities returned to their former condition.”
Last year’s lifting of the evacuation order covered areas of the four municipalities of Namie, Tomioka, Iitate and Kawamata that were outside the difficult-to-return zones.
In the joint survey, respondents were asked about measures taken by the central and local governments to decontaminate irradiated areas and construct social infrastructure. A combined 109 respondents said the measures were insufficient or somewhat insufficient.
They were asked their reasons for not returning.
Multiple answers were allowed, and the most popular response given by 59 people was because their homes were not habitable. Forty-eight people raised concerns about radiation exposure on their health.
The inconvenience of not having shops and hospitals nearby was cited by 56 people.
One 46-year-old resident of Namie who lives as an evacuee with her husband and two children in central Fukushima Prefecture has no plans to return because there are no hospitals in the community capable of looking after her oldest daughter, who has an illness that could require emergency care.
While the rates at which evacuees have returned to the four municipalities range between 3.5 percent and 31.1 percent, the rates have not necessarily increased dramatically in the other municipalities where evacuation orders were lifted before spring 2017.
While the rates are between 80 and 81 percent for Tamura and Kawauchi, it is only between 19 and 34 percent in the three other municipalities where the orders were lifted prior to spring 2017.