TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The Japanese government on Friday lifted its advisory for residents living in areas between 20 and 30 kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant to evacuate due to the nuclear crisis at the plant, scaling down the evacuation zone five months after its designation.
"This is major progress following the nuclear accident, and we will support residents' steady and safe return," nuclear disaster minister Goshi Hosono said in announcing the decision reached during a government meeting to discuss measures to deal with the world's worst nuclear accident in 25 years.
Efforts to decontaminate land polluted with radioactive substances and restoration of infrastructure are expected to proceed to pave the way for the actual return of around 26,000 people who are currently staying outside the so-called Evacuation-Prepared Area in Case of Emergency.
The advisory covered the entire town of Hirono and parts of the cities of Minamisoma and Tamura, the town of Naraha and the village of Kawauchi, all in Fukushima Prefecture. A total of around 58,500 people resided in those areas.
The government issued the advisory for the five municipalities on April 22, more than a month after the nuclear crisis began at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant on March 11 following the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that day.
The advisory meant that residents could be asked to swiftly evacuate or to remain indoors in emergency situations. But the five municipalities have evacuated children, pregnant women, hospitalized patients and others, and have closed schools and suspended factory operations.
Among the areas released from the advisory, the city of Tamura and village of Kawauchi plan to complete the return of residents by around March 2012, and evacuees from Hirono are expected to return by the end of 2012.
Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano, who held a joint press conference with Hosono, said that the latest decision was reached partly because the risks of a sudden deterioration at the crippled Fukushima plant "have gone."
Although the plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. has yet to achieve a cold shutdown, the crippled reactors are now being cooled stably through a water circulation system created after the crisis.
Two other categories of evacuation zones -- the 20 km no-go zone around the plant and areas outside the no-go zone where radiation exposure is expected to top 20 millisieverts a year -- remain in place, however, with no clear prospects on when they will be lifted.
(Mainichi Japan) October 1, 2011