Plans to revive areas hit by N-disaster must cover population decline problem
Even though five years have passed since the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant occurred, nearly 100,000 people from Fukushima Prefecture continue to live as evacuees both in and outside the prefecture.
The government plans to lift by March 2017 the evacuation orders for areas where residence is restricted — excluding those that are designated as difficult-to-return zones because of extremely high levels of radiation — as well as areas where preparations are being made for the lifting of evacuation orders.
How the blueprints for regional rejuvenation should be drawn up with evacuees’ return home in mind is a major challenge facing the municipalities concerned.
One headache in this regard is that lifting the evacuation orders will not necessarily lead to the return of evacuees. In the case of Naraha, from which the entire population was evacuated, only 6 percent of the town’s former residents have returned their home bases since the orders were lifted last September.
According to a survey of the residents’ opinions conducted in January by the Reconstruction Agency and other entities, those who said they would resume living in the town totaled slightly more than 50 percent of respondents, including those who have already returned.
In regard to the towns of Futaba and Okuma, most of which are in difficult-to-return zones where the prospects for lifting the evacuation orders are not in sight, only around 10 percent of respondents expressed intentions to return. Those who answered “not returning” accounted for 50 percent to 60 percent.
Population declines in every municipality will be unavoidable even after the evacuation orders are lifted.
The percentage of those who want to return is higher among elderly people. First of all, preparations to resume operations at core hospitals must be accelerated. Four of these hospitals located in Futaba county, comprising Naraha and seven other municipalities, have had their operations suspended.
Wider cooperation crucial
It is also essential to improve public transportation systems, which are needed for hospital visits and shopping.
Service continues to be partially suspended on the JR Joban Line. Bus services remain suspended on many regular routes in disaster-affected areas. It will also be necessary to restructure the traffic network connecting municipalities around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant with other cities in the prefecture, including Fukushima, Koriyama and Iwaki.
If regional revival is undertaken by each municipality on an individual basis, there are limits to what can be achieved. The municipalities should push ahead with reconstructing the entire region through efforts that reach beyond the boundaries of municipalities.
Many disaster-affected municipalities are aiming to establish compact towns where administrative offices and commercial, medical and welfare facilities are concentrated. It may be an idea for municipalities to cooperate in working out plans on community building.
If functions necessary to improve residents’ livelihoods are provided through the cooperation of municipalities, their fiscal burdens will be reduced. It is also important for the national and prefectural governments to coordinate measures adequately.
To entice younger generations to return, job opportunities must be available. Government support is needed to attract businesses to the region.
The envisaged “Innovation Coast” — to concentrate research facilities and corporate entities related to the decommissioning of damaged reactors along the coastal area — is expected to lead to job creation and an inflow of new residents. We want to see this innovation steadily put into place with the government taking the initiative.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 15, 2016)