April 10, 2019 / 9:02 AM / in 13 days

Evacuation order lifted for part of Fukushima plant host town

FILE PHOTO : Evacuees of Okuma town, who are dressed in protective suits, offer prayers for victims of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster at their town office during their temporary visit for the mourning event at the 20 km (12 miles) no-entry zone in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture, March 11, 2012, to mark the first anniversary of the disasters that killed thousands and set off a nuclear crisis. The characters on the sign post reads, "People of Okuma town". REUTERS/Kim Kyung-hoon/File Photo

TOKYO (Reuters) - Eight years after nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima power plant forced evacuation of nearby communities, Japanese authorities on Wednesday gave the first clearance for residents to return to a neighborhood of one of the towns that hosted the stricken plant.

The little town of Okuma faces an uphill battle rebuilding. More than half of its 10,000 registered residents have decided against returning, according to a survey.

Only 3.5 percent of them had lived in the neighborhood where people have been allowed to return, but Okuma’s mayor insisted it was just the start.

“This is a major milestone for the town,” Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe said in a written statement. “But this is not the goal, but a start toward the lifting of the evacuation order for the entire town.”

In March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami destroyed Tokyo Electric Power’s (Tepco) Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, which straddles the municipalities of Okuma and Futaba on the Pacific coast.

More than 160,000 people were evacuated as a result of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in a quarter of a century. Since then, the restricted area has gradually shrunk, leaving just 339 square km (131 square miles) still deemed too unsafe to live.

Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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