Evacuation Orders Lifted But Many Evacuees Won’t Return

Fukushima Today

Immediately after TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster, the government expanded the evacuation order in a concentric circle. On the evening of the day after the disaster, March 12, 2011, the government issued an evacuation order within a 20km radius. On April 22, 2011, the government designated areas such as Iitate Village, where the annual cumulative dose was expected to reach 20 millisieverts, as a “planned evacuation zone.” In June and December of the same year, the government also designated “specific spots recommended for evacuation” for individual households in areas such as the town of Reizen, Date City, Fukushima Prefecture, and Haramachi Ward, Minamisoma City. However, the annual exposure level of 20 millisieverts is 20 times higher than the international recommendation of 1 millisievert per year and much higher than the standard for radiation controlled areas (about 5 millisieverts per year), which only trained professionals such as medical personnel and nuclear power plant workers are allowed to enter, and for this reason, it was met with strong criticism. After 2014, many evacuation orders were gradually lifted. The government has three criteria for lifting evacuation orders: (1) certainty that the annual cumulative dose will be less than 20 millisieverts, (2) infrastructure for a living has been restored, and (3) adequate consultation among the prefecture, municipalities, and residents. However, the government has not sufficiently consulted with residents regarding this matter.

Lifting of Evacuation Orders

On March 31 and April 1, 2017, evacuation orders were lifted from “evacuation order cancellation preparation zones” and “restricted residence zones” in Kawamata Town (Yamakiya District), Tomioka Town, Namie Town, and Iitate Village, and in April of 2019, evacuation orders were lifted from “evacuation order cancellation preparation zones” and “restricted residence zones” in Okuma Town. The evacuation orders had applied to about 81,000 residents of eleven municipalities that had been evacuated shortly after the accident, and about 70% of the areas were lifted from the orders. In March of 2020, evacuation orders were lifted from the difficult to return areas surrounding Futaba Station (Futaba Town), Ono Station (Okuma Town), and Yonomori Station (Tomioka Town) along the Joban Line.

However, the lifting of evacuation orders does not necessarily mean that evacuees are returning. In reality, young people are hesitant to return, and a growing number of households consist of just one or two elderly persons.

The Loss of Communities

Before the government lifted evacuation orders, the Reconstruction Agency and local government surveys asked evacuees from evacuation areas about their intentions to return home. Responses differed depending on the municipality, but it was clear that many evacuees did not intend to return. For example, in Futaba Town, 62.1% of the residents answered that they “have decided not to return,” which was much higher than the 10.8% who answered that they “want to return (including in the future)”. By age group, the percentage of respondents who answered that they “have decided not to return” was higher among those in their 70s as well as those in their 30s.

In the case of Tomioka Town, where the restricted residential area and evacuation orders were lifted on April 1, 2017, the residential rate in the areas where residence was permitted in Tomioka Town was about 13% in December 2020, almost three years after the lifting of the evacuation order. The actual return rate is less than that as these numbers include people who have newly moved into the area. Elderly people live in scattered locations, and the rest are workers and personnel connected with TEPCO and related companies. 

“One by one, houses are being torn down in the neighborhood. There is no trace of the original community that existed here. Is this really ‘reconstruction’?” said a 91-year-old man who returned to live in Tomioka Town.

The government has decided in the fiscal year of 2021 to provide up to 2 million yen in aid to those who move to the 12 municipalities surrounding the nuclear power plant2. While mercilessly cutting off aid to evacuees and leaving radiation protection policies on the table, the government is forcefully encouraging people to move to the area to create an illusion of “reconstruction.”

The policy of establishing, reorganizing, and lifting evacuation order areas is decided by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. In other words, the “perpetrators” who have been promoting nuclear power plants have the power to decide on policies that will greatly affect the lives of the “victims”. There is a need for a new framework to reflect the will of the residents in policies such as implementing and lifting evacuation orders.

Supporting Minamisoma residents who sued the government

In December 2014, the government canceled all Specific Spot Recommended for Evacuation in areas such as Haramachi Ward, Minamisoma City, Fukushima Prefecture. The government asserted that the cumulative annual exposure dose would be less than 20 millisieverts, and subsequently discontinued assistance and compensation for evacuees there. At a briefing session regarding this matter, multiple people voiced their opinions of opposition, but unfortunately, these voices went ignored.

In April 2015, a group of 808 residents filed a lawsuit against the government on the grounds that its actions were illegal. FoE Japan launched a support group and continues to provide aid to the plaintiffs.

1: Based on interviews conducted in February 2018 and February 2019.

2: Yomiuri Shimbun Online, “2 million yen to families who newly move to Fukushima…funding for 12 cities surrounding the nuclear power plant.” (December 13, 2020) (In Japanese)    

(“Fukushima Today and Japan’s Energy Future 2021”)