Japan Opens Three Evacuated Towns After Tepco’s Disaster

Japan will partially open three towns in the evacuation zone in Fukushima prefecture next month for the first time since a record earthquake last March caused the worst nuclear disaster in 25 years.

Residents of the towns Kawauchi, Tamura and Minami Soma will be allowed to go home temporarily, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said on its website yesterday. They will be able to drive cars on major roads in those areas, where the government has measured radiation exposure levels to be less than 20 millisieverts a year, the ministry said.

Last year’s quake and tsunami in Japan’s northeast crippled the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear station operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co., forcing about 160,000 people to flee their homes. The company known as Tepco this week requested 1 trillion yen ($12 billion) of public funds to avert collapse, paving the way for the government to take control of what once was the world’s biggest private utility.

“The government will work to help residents get back to their hometown at the earliest date possible,” Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said at a meeting of the nuclear disaster panel yesterday, according to a government website. Officials will continue to review whether the evacuation advisory for the area should be lifted, he said.

Japan’s government has asked people living within a 20-kilometer (12.4 miles) radius of the Fukushima nuclear plant to evacuate. Only two of 54 nuclear reactors in Japan are operating after meltdowns at three of six at the Tepco plant last year.

The March 11 temblor and tsunami left almost 19,000 people dead or missing, according to police data.

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