Parts of Okuma are open for business once again, but only a few hundred former residents have moved home
A town next to the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant partially reopened on Wednesday, eight years after a triple meltdown forced tens of thousands of people in the area to flee.
About 40% of Okuma, which sits immediately west of the plant, was declared safe for residents to make a permanent return after decontamination efforts significantly reduced radiation levels.
However, media reports said just 367 people from Okumas pre-disaster population of 10,341 had registered as residents, suggesting that very few people will return to neighbourhoods that have been abandoned since a deadly earthquake and tsunami triggered a triple meltdown at the nuclear plant in March 2011.
Most of Okuma, however, remains off-limits due to high radiation levels. Residents have been permitted to make daytime visits to maintain their homes, but Kyodo news reported that only 48 people, belonging to 21 households, had so far registered to stay overnight.
Local officials hope the opening next month of a new town hall and other infrastructure projects will convince more people to return.
Concern over the possible health effects of exposure to radiation remains high among people from areas near the plant, particularly families with young children. A poll by the Asahi newspaper and a local broadcaster found that almost two-thirds of evacuated residents felt anxious about radiation despite official claims that decontamination work had been a success.
Part of Okuma is also being used as an interim storage site for millions of cubic metres of toxic soil gathered during an unprecedented decontamination drive to reduce radiation to levels that would enable tens of thousands of evacuees to return home.
The government has vowed to move the soil out of Fukushima prefecture by 2045, but has yet to find a permanent storage site.
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