New evacuation ‘border’ baffles, splits community in Fukushima via Asahi Shimbun

OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture—Evacuees eager to finally return to their homes near the hobbled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant have been thrown into confusion over the way evacuation orders will be lifted.

The orders will end in parts of the “difficult-to-return zones” in less than six months but not all of them as the town of Okuma had hoped.

In a compromise with the central government, the town accepted a boundary that cuts across the Machi neighborhood of Okuma, creating a livable “enclave” surrounded on all sides by “no-entry” areas.

Residents from the enclave will be able to return to their homes, but their neighbors, even on the other side of a street, could be prohibited from returning until the end of the decade.

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In 2017, about 20 of the 140 or so hectares of the community’s landmass were collectively designated by the central government as a “specified reconstruction and revitalization base,” entitling the area to preferential decontamination work.

The evacuation order covering those 20 hectares is expected to be lifted next spring.

However, Shoichi Sasaki, head of the Machi community, is not excited by the prospect.

“Our community has been divided, although radiation levels are more or less the same on the inside and outside of the ‘reconstruction base’ area,” Sasaki, 72, said.

Most of the 860 or so hectares in Okuma that have been designated as reconstruction bases are concentrated around Ono Station. The Machi community is detached from those areas.

The reconstruction base in Machi includes only about half of all households in the community. Returning residents may be denied free access to areas outside the reconstruction base that will remain as difficult-to-return zones.

‘PRODUCT OF COMPROMISE’

A behind-the-scenes struggle between Okuma and the central government led to the curious demarcation, according to former senior town officials and assembly members.

Okuma town representatives called for a lifting of all difficult-to-return zone designations, but the central government did not like the idea, which would have required huge cleanup costs.

The “specified reconstruction and revitalization base” zoning system was a “product of compromise” to promote decontamination work for the lifting of evacuation orders only in limited parts of the difficult-to-return zones.

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