Japan's government today lifted a 4 1/2-year-old evacuation order for the northeastern town of Naraha that had sent all of the town's 7,400 residents away following the disaster at the nearby Fukushima nuclear plant. Naraha became the first to get the order lifted among seven municipalities forced to empty entirely due to radiation contamination following the massive earthquake and tsunami that sent the plant's reactors into triple meltdowns in March 2011. The central government has said radiation levels in Naraha have fallen to levels deemed safe following decontamination efforts. According to a government survey, however, 53% of the evacuees from Naraha, which is 12 miles south of the nuclear plant, say they're either not ready to return home permanently or are undecided.
Some say they've found jobs elsewhere over the past few years, while others cite radiation concerns. Naraha represents a test case, as most residents remain cautious amid lingering health concerns and a lack of infrastructure. In the once-abandoned town, a segment of a national railway is still out of service, with the tracks covered with grass. Some houses are falling down and wild boars roam around at night. Only about 100 of the nearly 2,600 households have returned since a trial period began in April. Last year, the government lifted evacuation orders for parts of two nearby towns, but only about half of their former residents have returned. Overall, about 100,000 people from about 10 municipalities around the wrecked plant still cannot go home. (Read more Fukushima Dai-ichi stories.)