World

Japan has officially reopened part of a town evacuated 12 years ago in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The area of Tomioka, southwest of the wrecked Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, was evacuated following the disaster in March 2011.

Its reopening was celebrated on Saturday, in time for the popular cherry blossom season.

Former residents and visitors celebrated as they strolled along a street known as “the cherry blossoms tunnel”.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also joined a ceremony to mark the reopening.

“The lifting of the evacuation is by no means a final goal, but the start of the recovery,” Mr Kishida said at the ceremony.

He also pledged to keep working to lift all remaining no-go zones.

More than 160,000 residents in the areas surrounding the nuclear power plant were evacuated after a triple meltdown at the facility in March 2011.

The meltdown was triggered when four of the site’s reactor buildings were damaged in the wake of a 9.0 magnitude earthquake – the most powerful ever recorded in Japan’s history.

A subsequent tsunami hit the area, sending huge waves over the facility’s sea walls, and damaging the plant’s backup generators.

Around 18,000 died across Japan as a result of the quake and tsunami, while a 20km (12 mile) exclusion zone was put in place as a result of the nuclear meltdown.

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Despite a major decontamination operation, around 30,000 people are still unable to return home.

Tomioka is one of 12 nearby towns fully or partially designated as no-go zones.

Parts of the town have previously been reopened, with around 1,600 people – around 10% of the pre-disaster population – having returned so far.

In the newly reopened districts, just over 50 of about 2,500 registered residents have reportedly returned or expressed intention to go back to live.

“The living environment and many other things still need to be sorted out,” Tomioka Mayor Ikuo Yamamoto told reporters on Saturday.

An evacuation order was lifted in several sections of another hard-hit town, Namie, northwest of the plant, on Friday.

The reopened area accounts for only about 20% of the town.

In 2021 – a decade after the disaster – it was reported that the Japanese government had spent about 32.1 trillion yen rebuilding the region.

Decommissioning the crippled plant is also expected to take decades.

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