Fukushima ghost town struggles back to life via The Irish Times

Their town, once home to 7,800 people, has a new kindergarten, school and welfare centre where former nuclear evacuees can get counselling.
All that’s missing are people: fewer than 200 residents have returned.
Last month, Naraha became the first town in Fukushima Prefecture to completely lift an evacuation order imposed after the triple meltdown, which was triggered by an earthquake and tsunami.
At a ceremony to mark the town’s reopening, mayor Yukiei Matsumoto declared the nightmare that had begun nearly five years ago officially over. “The clock that stopped has now begun to tick,” he said.
Restarting that clock, however, has been costly. Naraha is almost entirely government-supported. It has a publicly built shopping centre and a new secondary school in construction – with no children.
A factory on the outskirts of town will design and test robots for the ruined plant. A team of decontamination workers has been sent to every house.
Dosimeters are being distributed free to residents who return.
The local water filtration plant is tested hourly, says Yusuke Igari, a local government spokesman. “We probably have the safest tap water in Japan, ” he says.
“The key objective is to communicate to the public that Japan can overcome a nuclear accident,” says Jan Vande Putte, a radiation specialist for the environmental watchdog Greenpeace International.
“It’s not economical; it would be a lot cheaper to give people enough money to leave and buy new houses.
“The goal is political.”
In August, Japan fired up its first reactor under tougher safety rules introduced after Fukushima.
Another two dozen reactors have applied to restart – the government’s latest energy plan assumes they will provide about 20 per cent of the nation’s energy mix.
But the restarts are unpopular and virtually every one is the focus of a potentially long-drawn out legal dispute over safety.
Many of the roughly 120,000 nuclear evacuees, meanwhile, have built new lives elsewhere and are reluctant to return to communities that have often fallen into ruin.
Worries over radiation complicate an already difficult decision. Though scientists have repeatedly said the decontaminated areas are safe, many distrust such reassurances, says Naoko Kanai, a former Naraha resident.
Compensation deadline
Such worries are highlighted by a hotly contested report claiming that rates of thyroid cancer in Fukushima since March 2011 are 20-50 times the national level.
Many refugees also fear that their nuclear compensation, amounting to a monthly stipend of 100,000 yen (€732) per person, will be terminated if they refuse to go back to areas declared safe.
The payments are due to end in 2018.

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