Residents have been allowed to return to the remote Japanese town housing the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant for the first time in 11 years, a major milestone for cleaning up the worst atomic disaster in decades.
Futaba, located in Japan’s Fukushima prefecture, lifted evacuation orders for some areas on Tuesday. Residents were removed from their homes following the nuclear meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant in March 2011.
The meltdown was sparked by a tsunami that swept away towns and cities after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, leaving more than 20,000 people dead or missing.
It is the last of 11 municipalities to have an evacuation order lifted after the disaster. By 2030, the town aims to have 2,000 residents, less than 30 per cent of its original population, Japan Times reported.
The move comes as Japan shows renewed interest in atomic power to offset higher oil and gas prices and the effect of a weak yen on the resource-scant nation. While the Fukushima plant itself remains inoperable, radiation levels around the site have dropped over the last decade and evacuation orders are steadily being lifted for surrounding towns.
Nevertheless, Futaba faces a long road ahead to rebuilding the town. Most of the town remains off-limits, and a survey last year showed only 11 per cent of its citizens want to return to their hometown.
Last week, Tepco announced it had delayed work to remove radioactive debris from one of the reactors at the devastated power station, saying it needed an "additional preparation period" of up to 18 months. The work could now start as late as March 2024.
The delay is necessary "to improve the safety and ensure the success" of surveying inside the reactors and retrieving the debris, the company said.
Engineers are fine-tuning a robotic arm specially designed for the work, including adjusting its speed and precision, Tepco said.
AFP and Bloomberg contributed reporting