Residents of the town of Tamura who were evacuated following the Fukushima- Daiichi nuclear accident are to be allowed to move back into their homes, Japanese authorities have said.
Three years after the 11 March 2011 disaster, the Japanese government has told residents that it will lift the evacuation order on 358 people who live in eastern districts of the town on 1 April 2014.
They are the first of more than 146,000 evacuees who left the area following the accident to be given formal permission to return permanently.
In a meeting with around 100 residents, trade and industry minister Kazuyoshi Akaba said: “The government does not have the right to delay the reconstruction of your lives.”
Accompanied by the town mayor and officials of the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters, Mr Akaba told local people that decontamination work has reduced radiation levels to safe levels – below 20 millisieverts a year – and that work to restore infrastructure has been completed.
Local people have been able to return briefly to their properties since April 2012, to carry out repair work on their homes, but they were closely monitored and not permitted to stay overnight.
Japan’s nuclear regulator, the Nuclear Regulation Authority, noted that evacuees have suffered from health problems including mental stress, with concerns ranging from separation from family members and health concerns about radiation exposure.
The NRA said some evacuees are planning to return as soon as possible, while others are eager to re-build their lives in areas where they are living now.
The NRA has called on the government to offer returnees measures to support their “life-planning and radiation protection”. The NRA said the government should prepare and carry out “thorough measures” to address anxieties about radiation exposure as much as possible by ensuring continued monitoring and health care.
“The authorities have to take the responsibility to check whether social systems and facilities for daily life and radiation protection are sufficient for people who made the decision to return their homes,” the NRA said.
A system must be established for “thorough health care and consultations” for people who return, the NRA said. Takumi Nemoto, the minister for reconstruction, said one of his ministry’s priorities is to ensure adequate human resources for medical and nursing care. He said the government would provide “home health guidance” and is strengthening health support for children.
The NRA also said risk communication needs to be addressed, with information on exposure and health collected and disseminated “in an easy-to-understand manner”.