A town left deserted after its entire population was evacuated in the wake of the devastating Fukushima nuclear disaster is no longer off-limits, the country’s government said.
Futaba, located around two-and-a-half miles away, was reopened on Wednesday ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
Some 7,000 residents were ordered to leave after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake devastated Japan and triggered the meltdown of three reactors at the town’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on 11 March 2011. It has remained untouched in the nine years since.
The partial lifting of the entry ban comes weeks before the Olympic torch starts from another town in Fukushima prefecture, and is expected to pass through Futaba on its route.
Unrestricted access to the red zone is only being allowed to a one-square-mile area near the main Futaba train station, which will reopen later this month to reconnect it with the rest of the region for the first time since the disaster.
The gate at a checkpoint was opened at midnight on Tuesday, and officials placed a signboard at their new town office.
Mayor Shiro Izawa said: ‘I’m overwhelmed with emotion as we finally bring part of our town operations back to our home town. I pledge to steadily push forward our recovery and reconstruction.’
More than 160,000 people fled when the disaster prompted the Japanese government to declare a 20-mile evacuation zone around the plant as huge amounts of radiation were spewed into the atmosphere.
Town officials say they hope to see Futaba’s former residents return, but prospects are grim because of lingering concerns about radioactivity.
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