Akihiko Morota, deputy director-general of the government’s Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters, explains the status of the difficult-to-return zone to Iitate village residents at a briefing in Fukushima city on Nov. 20.
November 21, 2022
FUKUSHIMA–Iitate village near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant plans to lift an evacuation order next spring for a small portion of the “difficult-to-return zone” so it can reclaim space for a park.
This marks the first time an evacuation order will be lifted without first carrying out decontamination work since the government made it easier to lift evacuation orders in 2020.
The order was originally issued due to high levels of radiation detected following the triple meltdown at the plant triggered by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Iitate Mayor Makoto Sugioka and the central government’s Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters made the announcement at a news conference following a briefing for residents in Fukushima city on Nov. 20.
Residents of Iitate in eastern Fukushima Prefecture had initially opposed lifting the evacuation order without first decontaminating the area, but the mayor said they were persuaded.
“We were able to obtain their consent at the briefing,” Sugioka said.
The area where the order will be lifted without any decontamination work is small. It spans just 0.64 hectares and includes only one household.
Workers will set up shields on the ground there to prevent exposure to radiation.
But the government has confirmed that even without the shielding, the radiation level is below the standard for issuing an evacuation order, at 20 millisieverts per year. The village plans to use this area as a park.
The government designated areas with readings of more than 50 millisieverts a year as difficult-to-return zones.
Iitate has a difficult-to-return zone measuring 1,080 hectares in total, according to the village and the central government.
Within this area, officials have designated a 186-hectare special zone for reconstruction and revitalization, which covers 63 households. That land will be decontaminated by removing topsoil contaminated with radioactive materials.
But there is no prospect for lifting the order for the remaining land outside the special zone, which covers 10 households.
In December 2020, the government created new criteria for lifting an evacuation order for land outside the special zone, where radiation levels are below the standard due to natural attenuation. Those conditions include a request from the local government and confirmation that no one will live there.
Among eight municipalities that have such special zones, this will be the first time that an evacuation order will be lifted outside the zone. No municipalities other than Iitate are seeking a lifting of the evacuation order under the new criteria.