First Fukushima residents go home to Miyakoji

01 April 2014

The first permanent returns were made today by Fukushima residents displaced by the nuclear accident three years ago.

Evacuation orders on the district of Miyakoji in the east of Tamura City were officially lifted today. This means some 357 registered residents could return home and attempt to resume life as normal for the first time since March 2011.

Although the area did not suffer significant damage from the earthquake of March 2011, infrastructure nevertheless fell into disrepair during the evacuation due to the nuclear accident that followed the tsunami. Rebuilding a workable community in Miyakoji began in mid-2013 when residents were first allowed to return during daylight hours. Infrastructure was progressively re-established and rice was planted in May 2012.

Tamura City 460x615
Tamura City

Today, local shops opened, refuse collection and recycling resumed and a new health clinic and play centre for children opened for the first time. A tourist attraction, the Tokiwa Sky Palace, is open for business as usual, while another, the Green Park, plans to re-open in July. Tax breaks have been announced to encourage the return of small businesses.

A Reuters report suggested that not all the 357 residents now allowed to return have done so, or plan to. Older people were more inclined to return, while families with children were cautious and heavily influenced by fear of radiation. The effects of the Fukushima accident have been exacerbated by a drastic loss of confidence in the authorities.

The Japanese government surveyed every evacuated municipality and classified them according to the levels of average radiation dose measured in the air. Miyakoji was one of the areas marked as 'ready to return' two years ago based on an average air dose rate of less than 20 mSv per year. This was calculated using a certain conservative pattern of assumed behaviour, including spending eight hours per day outside. However, people behave quite differently - especially when given advice on reducing their radiation dose. A recent study of actual dose rates in a similar zone showed doses in the range of 0.89-2.51 mSv per year - far below the  20 mSv per year categorisation and closely comparable with the average dose from background radiation in Japan of 2 mSv per year.

About a dozen other municipalities are categorised as 'ready to return'. It is expected that these will return one-by-one through this year, in which prime minister Shinzo Abe wants to see 'tangible' recovery in Fukushima prefecture.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News