TOKYO (Reuters) – Eight years after nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima power plant forced evacuation of nearby communities, Japanese authorities on Wednesday gave the first clearance for residents to return to a neighbourhood of one of the towns that hosted the stricken plant.
The little town of Okuma faces an uphill battle rebuilding. More than half of its 10,000 registered residents have decided against returning, according to a survey.
Only 3.5 percent of them had lived in the neighbourhood where people have been allowed to return, but Okuma’s mayor insisted it was just the start.
“This is a major milestone for the town,” Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe said in a written statement. “But this is not the goal, but a start towards the lifting of the evacuation order for the entire town.”
In March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami destroyed Tokyo Electric Power’s (Tepco) Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, which straddles the municipalities of Okuma and Futaba on the Pacific coast.
More than 160,000 people were evacuated as a result of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in a quarter of a century. Since then, the restricted area has gradually shrunk, leaving just 339 square km (131 square miles) still deemed too unsafe to live.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)