Tokyo Prepares to Lift Some Evacuation Areas

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Residents living in one of the evacuation areas surrounding the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant may see a measure of normalcy return to their neighborhoods next month. On Tuesday, Goshi Hosono, the official overseeing Tokyo’s response to the nuclear crisis, said that the so-called “emergency preparation evacuation zone” will be dissolved once the municipalities inside the area submit their reconstruction plans, according to Bloomberg.

The area in question is the band 20-30 kilometers away from the power plant, separate from the 20-kilometer mandatory evacuation zone, which will remain intact. In the preparation zone, which includes five cities including a large part of Minamisoma, residents have not been forced to evacuate but have been asked to remain ready. Many have left nonetheless, while schools and elderly homes are closed, and hospitals are operating at reduced capacity.

Hosono said the government has decided the zone is now sufficiently safe for people to return, but said Tokyo will wait to see the cities’ plans for reconstruction before eliminating the restrictions, including how they will go about decontaminating the city of the low levels of radiation that remains, for instance, in topsoil and on building surfaces. Minamisoma rolled out its decontamination over the weekend, in which experts from the University of Tokyo will help the city identify “hot spot” areas of high radiation levels.

It’s news that has likely been met with mixed feelings in the cities themselves, where people are still anxious about living with low-grade radiation but also are hurting from the economic slowdown the area’s depopulation has caused. Small businesses might begin to recover as women and children start to return to the area, but whether the region’s primary industry — agriculture — will ever return to what it was once was is unclear.

Also up in the air is what will become of the area inside the 20-km mark. The government also announced on Tuesday that residents of towns within three kilometers of the plant will be able to return home for the first time this month, but, according to the Wall Street Journal, was “noncommittal” about the long-term prospects of its rehabilitation.