A group of Fukushima residents were told on Sunday they could soon return to their homes three years after the massive nuclear catastrophe at the nearby power plant left a ghost town in its wake, though many residents remain suspicious of the overall safety of living in the area.
"The decision comes despite sharp divisions among residents over whether or not they should return," reports Agence France-Press, "with many still concerned over the persistent presence of low-level radiation, despite decontamination efforts."
While data varies, The International Commission on Radiological Protection recommends the safest limit of radiation dosage per person per year is one millisievert. In contrast, Japan's governmental guidelines say areas with 20 millisieverts of radiation per year are suitable for human life.
Reporting from Japan's Asahi Shimbun on Monday suggests that one reason the government "is rushing to lift evacuation orders" for the surrounding areas is money. Asahi Shimbun reports:
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), which is being lent money by the government’s Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund to compensate evacuees, is required to continue compensation one year after an evacuation order is lifted. Lifting the orders will hasten the end of those payments.
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The monthly payment of 100,000 yen ($980) for "emotional distress caused by the accident" will end for residents who return to their homes. Compensation for property damage and job-loss related to the disaster will continue regardless.
Roughly $14.63 billion has so far been paid in compensation to evacuees from the eleven evacuated municipalities, Asahi Shimbun reports.
The announcement comes as TEPCO continues the precarious task of decommissioning the plant, which has been riddled with radiation leaks, groundwater contamination, and electrical failures.
Last week highly radioactive water overflowed into the ground from a storage tank at the plant, in what officials said was the largest contamination in roughly six months.