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Japan further scales down evacuation zones around Fukushima plant

The government on Friday lifted the remaining evacuation orders
for large parts of areas less seriously contaminated by the radiation
due to the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster.

The government lifted evacuation orders that had affected some
parts of the towns of Kawamata and Namie as well as the village of
Iitate. A large part of the town of Tomioka will also be released
from the evacuation order Saturday.

The move will scale down the evacuation zones to about one-third
of what they had originally been. But it is uncertain whether many
residents will return to their homes amid radiation fears, while the
most seriously contaminated areas around the disaster-hit Fukushima
Daiichi nuclear power plant remain a no-go zone.

Initially, 11 municipalities -- many of which are located within
a 20-kilometers radius of the crippled nuclear complex -- had been
subject to the evacuation orders. They were later rezoned into three
categories based on their radiation levels, with the most seriously
contaminated land defined as the difficult-to-return areas.

Through radiation cleanup work and efforts to rebuild
infrastructure, the government said in 2015 that it aimed to remove
by the end of the current fiscal year through Friday all the
evacuation orders except for those issued to the difficult-to-return

But the government failed to do so in the towns of Okuma and
Futaba, which host the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant owned by Tokyo
Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.

Okuma and Futaba have some areas not designated as highly toxic,
but both towns will remain under full evacuation orders due to
insufficient infrastructure, according to government officials.

The areas where evacuation orders will be lifted by Saturday had
a registered population of about 32,000, or 12,000 households, around
the end of February. Even after the move, seven municipalities will
be partially or fully subject to evacuation orders.

As for the difficult-to-return zones, the government plans to
create areas where they will conduct intense decontamination and lift
the evacuation orders for those areas in about five years' time.

The number of Fukushima people who fled from their homes in the
wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, which also
triggered the nuclear crisis, stood at about 77,000 people as of
March. The maximum number was about 165,000 marked in May 2012.
(March 31)

Photo shows the center of the northeastern Japan town of Tomioka on March 31, 2017, a day before the government lifts an evacuation order for a large part of the town issued after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster.