Japan's prime minister Fumio Kishida delivers a speech at the opening ceremony of Fukushima Institute for Research, Education and Innovation F-REI in Namie, Fukushima prefecture, Japan on April 1, 2023. On Saturday, Kyodo News via AP TOKYO AP - Evacuation orders were lifted in small sections of Tomioka, a town southwest of the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant, in time for the popular cherry blossom season and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida joined a ceremony there to mark the reopening.
The area of about 4 square kilometers 1.5 square miles where entry restrictions were lifted is part of Tomioka town, most of which had already been reopened.
Former residents and visitors celebrated the latest reopening as they strolled along a street known as the cherry blossoms tunnel. Kishida pledged to continue working to lift all no-go zones after the lifting of the evacuation is by no means a final goal, but the start of the recovery.
In March 2011 a tsunami and earthquake triggered triple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. More than 160,000 people were evacuated from Fukushima, including around 30,000 people who are still unable to return home due to massive radiation spewed from the plant.
Tomioka is one of 12 nearby towns that have been designated as no-go zones. The two sections in Tomioka that were reopened for the first time in 12 years represent one-fifth of the worst-hit no-go zone and were selected by the government along with several other locations in the region for intensive decontamination.
But jobs, daily necessities and infrastructure remain insufficient, making it hard for younger people to return, and families with small children worried about possible radiation effects.
Tomioka Mayor Ikuo Yamamoto told reporters that the living environment and many other things still need to be sorted out.
In the newly reopened Yonomori and Osuge districts of Tomioka, about 50 of about 2,500 registered residents have reportedly returned or expressed intention to go back to life. Since large areas of Tomioka opened in 2017, only about 10% of the town's pre-disaster population of 16,000 have returned.
The majority of former residents say they have decided not to return because they have already found jobs and educations and built relationships elsewhere.
The evacuation order was lifted in several sections of another hard-hit town, Namie, northwest of the plant, on Friday. The reopened area only accounts for about 20% of the city's population.
"I have mixed feelings because there are many people who can't return or have no idea when they can return," said Namie Mayor Eiko Yoshida at an evacuation-lifting ceremony on Friday.