Japan partially lifted an evacuation order in one of the two hometowns of the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant on Wednesday for the first time since the 2011 disaster. Decontamination efforts have lowered radiation levels significantly in the area about 4 miles southwest of the plant where three reactors had meltdowns due to the damage caused by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, reports the AP. The action allows people to return to about 40% of Okuma. The other hometown, Futaba, remains off-limits, as are several other towns nearby. Many former residents are reluctant to return as the complicated process to safely decommission the plant continues. Opponents of lifting the evacuation orders in long-abandoned communities say the government is trying to showcase safety ahead of the Tokyo Olympics next summer.
The government has pushed for an aggressive decontamination program by removing topsoil, chopping trees and washing down houses and roads in contaminated areas, though experts say the effort only caused the contamination to move from one place to another, creating massive amounts of radioactive waste and the need for its long-term storage. The meltdowns at three of Fukushima Dai-ichi's six reactors caused massive radiation leaks that contaminated the plant's surroundings, forcing at its peak some 160,000 people to evacuate their homes. More than 40,000 were still unable to return home as of March, including Okuma's population of 10,000. Less than 4%—367 people—registered as residents in the two districts where the order was lifted. The government hopes to allow some of Futaba's 5,980 residents to return next year.
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