TOKYO (AP) – The government of Japan on Wednesday opened part of the last city to be evacuated due to radiation since the Fukushima nuclear disaster nine years ago, in a symbolic gesture to show the region’s recovery ahead of the Olympics in Tokyo
Futaba’s 70,000 residents were forced to leave the city when three reactors at a neighboring nuclear power plant were fused after being damaged by a 9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.RELATED
The partial lifting of the entry ban occurs weeks before the start of the Olympic torch procession in another city in Fukushima. The torch could also pass through Futaba, about 4 kilometers (2.4 miles) from the failed plant.
Unrestricted access, however, will be allowed only in an area of 2.4 square kilometers (less than one square mile) near the main Futaba train station, which will reopen later this month to connect the city with the rest of the region for the first time since the nuclear disaster. Access to the vast majority of Futaba is only allowed for those who receive permission for a day visit.
Because the city’s key infrastructure is still under reconstruction, residents will not be able to return until 2022.
The breakdown of the three reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant threw huge amounts of radiation that polluted the surrounding area and forced more than 160,000 people to escape.
The access gate at a checkpoint was opened Tuesday at midnight and the Futaba authorities placed a sign where the municipal office will be.
“I am overwhelmed with excitement at finally restarting part of municipal operations in our city,” said Mayor Shiro Izawa, after which he promised more reconstruction and recovery. “Lifting the access ban is not the goal. Our goal is for residents to return and live as they did before. ”
Officials say the prospects of the return of the former inhabitants of Futaba are bleak, due to the persistence of radiation fears. Many have also found jobs in other communities and only 10% of residents say they plan to return.