Tokyo lifts evacuation order for radiation-hit town of Naraha

Naraha Mayor Yukiei Matsumoto, rear left, plants a tree with children during an event in the town on September 5, 2015. © AP

Naraha Mayor Yukiei Matsumoto, rear left, plants a tree with children during an event in the town on September 5, 2015. © AP

Japan has lifted an evacuation order for the northeastern town of Naraha that has been in place since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The Japanese government on Saturday allowed Naraha’s 7,400 residents to return to their radiation-hit homes after more than four years.

On March 11, 2011, a nine-magnitude earthquake triggered a devastating tsunami that inflicted heavy damage on the six-reactor Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The cooling systems of the plant’s reactors were knocked out, leading to meltdowns and the release of radioactive radiation into the air, soil and sea.

The incident, regarded as the world’s worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, also led to the evacuation of 160,000 people from areas near the power plant.

Following decontamination efforts, the government announced lately that radiation in the town has fallen to safe levels.

However, a recent survey showed that 53 percent of the evacuees from Naraha, located 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of the nuclear plant, are either not ready to come back home permanently or are undecided. Some are said to have found jobs elsewhere, while others cited radiation concerns.

Since a trial period began in April, Naraha residents, some 100 out of the nearly 2,600 families, have been visiting the town during the daytime.

Naraha Mayor Yukiei Matsumoto said the Saturday decision was a turning point for the town.

“Our clock started moving again,” he said, adding, “The lifting of the evacuation order is one key step, but this is just a start.”

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