Evacuation order lifted in part of Fukushima 'difficult-to-return' zone

Residents of part of a district near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant designated as a "difficult-to-return" zone have been allowed back in for the first time since the 2011 disaster.

A total of more than 300 square kilometers of land in seven municipalities of Fukushima Prefecture is still designated as a "difficult-to-return" zone.

The Japanese government lifted the evacuation order for part of the village of Katsurao on Sunday morning.

Vehicles passed through on the road connecting the village and other areas after workers opened the barricade.

Residents of the Noyuki district, which makes up 20 percent of the village, were forced to leave their homes due to high levels of radiation after the accident.

About six percent of the district was prioritized as a special zone for decontamination work and infrastructure projects.

Village officials say 82 people from 30 households are registered as residents, but only eight people from four households have so far expressed an interest in returning.

Village Mayor Shinoki Hiroshi said residents have gone through various hardships in living as evacuees for more than 11 years. He added it is difficult to decide whether to return or not, but he hopes the area will be a place where people can live with peace of mind.

One resident, Hanzawa Fujio, had long prepared to return home. He had refurbished his house situated in the Noyuki district.

The 69 years old said he is happy about the lifting of the evacuation order, but said many challenges remain over how to rebuild the district.

He added that he is attached to the place and hopes to live peacefully while enjoying the changing of the seasons.