Trial overnight stays begin in Futaba, 11 years after nuke mishap

Trial overnight stays started in the Fukushima Prefecture town of Futaba on Jan. 20 in preparation for future permanent returns by residents, 10 years and 10 months after the nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant in March 2011. Futaba, the only Fukushima municipality that remains wholly evacuated, is seeking to have the blanket evacuation order lifted in June. Town areas covered by the preparatory program include a "specified reconstruction and revitalization base" ("reconstruction base" for short) inside a "difficult-to-return zone." Evacuation areas were set up in all or parts of 12 municipalities following the disaster, and Futaba was the last of them to begin moving toward the restoration of permanent residency. Of 15 people in 11 families from Futaba who had applied for the program in advance, five in four households registered for temporary stays on the first day. The areas for preparatory lodging include the reconstruction base zone centering on Futaba Station on the Japan Railways Group's (JR) Joban Line, totaling about 555 hectares, as well as some other parts, such as the east side of the station and the town's northeastern area, for both of which the evacuation order was lifted in advance in March 2020. These areas add up to some 220 hectares. The entire area covered accounts for about 15% of the municipality's 5,142 hectares. Townspeople with residency cards in the Futaba areas designated for preparatory stays numbered 3,613 in 1,455 households as of Dec. 31, 2021, equivalent to 64% of the town's population of 5,641. The program can be used by all relevant people considering residency in the areas. With removal of the evacuation order in sight in the reconstruction base area, the municipal government is constructing a makeshift town office building on the east side of Futaba Station, seeking to open it at the end of August. It plans to build municipal houses on the station's west side, with advance occupancy scheduled to begin in some of them as soon as October. As for areas outside the reconstruction base, the central government has indicated that it will seek the return of residents who desire it in the 2020s. But it has yet to fix policy details such as the range of decontamination areas polluted with nuclear fallout and the scope of areas where the evacuation order is to be eliminated. "We have been able to greet the (first) day of preparatory stays without losing hope (for return), marking the first step toward the town's reconstruction," Futaba Mayor Shiro Izawa told reporters in front of Futaba Station. "Although (the initial returnees are) small in number, I'm confident of them increasing in the future. We will bring into place a living environment such as infrastructure where townspeople can live with peace of mind." (Translated by Kyodo News)