Eight years after Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the compulsory evacuation order that kept residents and visitors out is being partially lifted.
Okuma town held part of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and has been empty of its 10,000 residents since March 2011 but, starting 10 April, it will – theoretically – open for business again. The decision was made by the government when they found that the radiation level had fallen sufficiently due to the decontamination work of recent years.
The mayor of the town, Toshitsuna Watanabe, welcomed the news, saying they wanted to open it as soon as possible and a new town office will be in operation by early May. Some areas of the town will still be off-limits due to still registering high levels of radiation. Another affected town, Futaba, remains mostly closed, with just 4% being open to visitors. Clean-up is still ongoing in the area and the government hopes to have 11% of the town open to residents by 2022.
It remains to be seen what the former ghost town has planned but it’s likely that tourism is high on the agenda. In other areas of the Fukushima Prefecture, tourism officials have been promoting the region heavily since 2016 in hopes of getting the region back on track with the rest of the country. The area is famous for surfing, skiing and hot springs, among other things.
While many strive to remove the negative associations with Fukushima, for some visitors its tragic history is part of the draw. Both the Fukushima Exclusion Zone and Chernobyl have been the source of fascination and a hotspot for ‘dark tourism’, where people are drawn to areas with tragic history. Guided tours of the disaster area have long been available but now it remains for the town to build its reputation anew.