About 60 percent of Fukushima evacuees cannot return home by 2017

By TETSUYA KASAI/ Staff Writer Even six years after the 2011 nuclear accident, about 54,000 people, or about 60 percent of Fukushima residents forced to evacuate during the unfolding crisis, will still be unable to return home.

The figure was obtained by The Asahi Shimbun through interviews with municipal government officials as well as estimates made by the Reconstruction Agency.

After the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant following the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake, an area within a 20-kilometer radius was designated a no-entry zone, while residents in areas outside of that circle were also instructed to evacuate in line with the spread of radioactive fallout. The decision was made in late 2011 to redesignate evacuation areas according to radiation levels.

Areas with annual radiation levels in excess of 50 millisieverts were designated as locations where residents could not return for at least five years from March 2011. Residents might be able to return within five years to areas where radiation levels were above 20 millisieverts and under 50 millisieverts and which have been designated as locations where living restrictions will apply. Areas where radiation levels were under 20 millisieverts were designated as locations where preparations can be made for lifting the evacuation order.

Almost all of the 54,000 evacuees who would most likely not be allowed to return home in the next four years are from the towns of Okuma and Futaba, which host the Fukushima No. 1 plant, as well as the towns of Namie and Tomioka.

There are about 26,000 residents who had homes in areas where residents could not return over the next five years. Of that number, about 17,000 are from Okuma and Futaba.

While there are parts of the two towns that are not covered by the no-return designation over the next four years, the two municipal governments have already decided not to have residents return for the next four years. That is because having residents return at the same time will avoid splitting them apart because of differences in compensation amounts from Tokyo Electric Power Co., depending on the designation of the area where evacuees had their homes.

Similarly, while the towns of Namie and Tomioka do not have large ratios of residents who live in areas where no return is possible over the next four years, the municipal governments have decided against a return of residents within that time frame.

About 28,000 residents of those four towns lived in areas outside the five-year no-return zone, but who will not be returning home until at least 2017.

Of the 11 municipalities covered by the redesignation of evacuation zones, six have already completed redesignation within their jurisdictions. Three other municipalities will complete that redesignation by April.

Central government officials are continuing discussions with the municipal governments of Futaba and Kawamata so they can redesignate their towns by this spring.

At the same time, there is also a significant ratio of evacuees who have already decided not to return home regardless of how redesignations are conducted.

According to surveys conducted by the Reconstruction Agency, there are municipalities where between 30 to 50 percent of respondents have said they do not plan to return. Most are younger people with children.