Recently announced plans to dissolve the emergency evacuation preparation zone have been met with trepidation in affected municipalities, whose residents and officials worry about radiation and whether evacuees will actually return.
The central government decided Tuesday to dissolve the emergency evacuation preparation zone, which was created in the wake of the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Residents within the emergency evacuation preparation zone must be prepared to leave, or remain inside their homes, in the event of an emergency. Some residents have left voluntarily.
The dissolution will likely be announced late this month or in early September, after all the related municipal governments have submitted reconstruction plans. However, local governments have said central authorities should dissolve the zone after presenting plans for decontamination.
Stores remained closed in Hironomachi, Fukushima Prefecture, where more than 90 percent of residents have left. Some evacuees have said they cannot lead a normal life in the town in the current situation.
One concerned resident is Kazuko Nemoto, 55, who has run a liquor shop for about 20 years in a shopping street near Hirono Station of the JR Joban Line.
“Some of my acquaintances have settled in the places they evacuated to. I wonder how many will come back even if the designation is lifted,” she said.
Nemoto also evacuated to an apartment in neighboring Iwaki and commutes to her store by car every day. But most other stores on the street are closed and there are only a few pedestrians.
Some days Nemoto has no customers at all, exacerbating the burden of her gas and utility costs.
“If there are no people living here, the town will die,” Nemoto said. “So I’ve continued opening my shop, but…”
When the nuclear crisis began in March, affected municipal governments said safety could not be guaranteed and recommended their residents voluntarily evacuate.
Some residents began returning home from April 22, however, when authorities switched from requiring they stay inside to creating the emergency evacuation preparation zone.
Only about 300 people now live in Hironomachi, however, although the population before the crisis was about 5,500. The number is much smaller than in other affected municipalities.
According to the town government, only one of three hospitals in Hironomachi has continued service since the disaster. Another hospital will resume service this month, but only once a week.
Ninety percent of the water supply was restored in late June, but it is still unknown when the regular sewage system can start up again, because the town’s sewage treatment facility near the sea was damaged.
Sewage service is currently provided through a makeshift facility.
Unlike Minami-Soma, where large-scale commercial facilities have resumed operations, it is difficult to obtain daily necessities in Hironomachi, where many stores are run by individuals.
Hironomachi Deputy Mayor Koki Kuroda said: “As the major point for dissolving the zone, it’s necessary to guarantee children will be safe after returning home as well as ending the nuclear crisis.
“It’s irresponsible to dissolve the zone and then leave decontamination work to local entities. I want the central government to take responsibility until the last stage.”
Yumiko Nishimoto, 58, the head of a nonprofit organization who evacuated to Iwaki, said: “The town government office is still in Iwaki. In Hironomachi, there have been many burglaries and security conditions have not recovered. The zone can’t be dissolved as long as decontamination hasn’t been completed.”
A 34-year-old homemaker who evacuated to a hot spring facility in Iwaki with her two primary school-age children said: “I’m mostly afraid of radiation. Unless safety is guaranteed, we can’t go home even if we want to.”
Some residents in Minami-Soma said they were also unsure about the decision to dissolve the zone.
Yoshioki Fukano, 72, said his home is in a hot spot–a specific location where voluntary evacuation is recommended due to high radiation levels–in the Haramachi district of Minami-Soma.
“The emergency evacuation preparation zone will be dissolved, but my house is in a place where evacuation is recommended. I don’t know if the city is really safe,” he said.
Rebuilding plans due in Sept.
The Yomiuri Shimbun
Five municipal governments in the emergency evacuation preparation zone will draft reconstruction plans by early September, including when schools, hospitals and other public facilities will resume operations, according to the central government’s Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters.
The five municipalities are Minami-Soma, Tamura, Hironomachi, Narahamachi and Kawauchimura, all in Fukushima Prefecture. They are outside the no-entry zone established within a 20-kilometer radius of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Residents have been urged to prepare to evacuate, or stay inside, in the event of an emergency and to evacuate children and others who need special care.
Immediately after the municipal governments submit their plans, the government will dissolve the emergency evacuation preparation zone and allow evacuees to return home.
“Evacuation is difficult, but returning home from evacuation sites may be harder in some ways. I want concerned ministries and agencies to cooperate solidly,” Prime Minister Naoto Kan said at a Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters meeting Tuesday.
The headquarters also decided to allow people from Futabamachi and Okumamachi, whose homes are located within three kilometers of the nuclear plant, to return for short visits as early as the end of this month.
In addition, the government decided to draft a basic guideline for decontamination of radioactive materials by the end of this month, to ease residents’ fears in areas where radiation pollution has spread.
Akihiro Kitaide / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer