The Japanese government says it will abolish the "evacuation-ready" zone in 5 municipalities that lie between 20 to 30-kilometer radius from Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant on September 30, all at once. It may be construed as a declaration by the national government that it is now "safe" to return after slightly over 6 months after one of the worst nuclear accidents in history (which many thing is "the" worst).
Yomiuri Shinbun (9/26/2011):
The Japanese government will abolish the "evacuation-ready" zone on September 30. The "evacuation-ready" zone was set between 20 to 30-kilometer radius from Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant after the accident [where the residents are required to be ready to evacuate on a moment's notice and where no pregnant women and small children are supposed to be living].
Tadahiro Matsushita, Vice Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, informed the heads of the municipalities in the zone in the morning of September 26.
In the "evacuation-ready" zone, residents are required to be ready to take refuge indoors or evacuate outside the zone in case of a nuclear emergency. The zone includes part or all of 5 municipalities - Minami Soma City, Tamura City, Naraha-machi, Hirono-machi, Kawauchi-mura. Currently, about 30,000 residents out of pre-accident area population of 58,000 have evacuated outside the area.
Each municipality will carry out decontamination of schools and homes based on the "recovery plan" [that it has submitted to the national government], and ask the residents who have evacuated to come back.
Fukushima Prefecture will build new homes for the returning residents, Yomiuri also reports:
On the national government's notice that it will abolish the "evacuation-ready" zone by the end of this month, Fukushima Prefecture is finalizing the plan to build temporary houses in the 5 municipalities whose designation as "evacuation-ready" zone will be lifted. The prefectural government has started the selection process for the locations.
The houses are for people who lost their homes in the earthquake and tsunami, so that they can live closer to their old homes [i.e. come back from their temporary shelters outside the area].
The 5 municipalities are Minami Soma City, Tamura City, Hirono-machi, Naraha-machi, Kawauchi-mura. The prefectural government will ask the municipalities how many houses they want built. Minami Soma City has already asked the prefectural government for 400 houses.
Japanese have always been good at construction projects. I mean, good at "dango" profit sharing of all scales and sizes between the contractors and subcontractors, and between them and the government officials.
And "decontamination"? Good luck to them if the data from Watari District in Fukushima City is any indication. Professor Tomoya Yamauchi of Kobe University compared the radiation levels before and after the district's "decontamination" effort, and found that it hardly made a dent. In a place where the removal of contaminated dirt didn't happen, the radiation level doubled in a month, possibly with new deposits of radioactive cesium migrating from the surrounding area. Scrubbing the roofs and walkways with power washer lowered the radiation by 30% at most. (Professor Yamauchi's report is here, in Japanese.)
But the "decontamination" projects, which are usually undertaken by the neighborhood associations with minimal support from the municipal government's cleaning contractors, seem to have an effect of making the residents feel the radiation may have gotten lower because of their own effort, and that it will be OK to continue to be living there.
A cheap, almost ideal solution for the politicians in the national government and the prefecture - decontamination by the residents, no need to pay for evacuation costs, a building boom for temporary houses creating jobs for the locals.