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Japanese town closed off for nine years after nuclear disaster reopens

The town has been closed since the disaster in 2011.

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A guard opens the gate to the town in Futaba, Fukushima prefecture (Kyodo News/AP)

A guard opens the gate to the town in Futaba, Fukushima prefecture (Kyodo News/AP)

A guard opens the gate to the town in Futaba, Fukushima prefecture (Kyodo News/AP)

A Japanese town which had been subject to an evacuation order following the devastating Fukushima nuclear disaster is no longer off-limits, the country’s government said.

Some 7,000 people were ordered to leave Futaba after three reactors melted down due to damage at the town’s nuclear plant brought on by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

The partial lifting of the entry ban comes weeks before the Olympic torch starts from another town in Fukushima prefecture.

Unrestricted access is only being allowed to a one-square-mile area near the main Futaba train station, which will reopen later this month to reconnect it with the rest of the region for the first time since the accident.

Weeds seen growing in an abandoned apartment complex
Weeds seen growing in an abandoned apartment complex, in Futaba (Jae C Hong/AP)

The three reactor meltdowns at the town’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant spewed massive amounts of radiation that contaminated the surrounding area and, at its peak, forced more than 160,000 people to flee.

The gate at a checkpoint was opened at midnight on Tuesday, and Futaba officials placed a signboard at their new town office.

“I’m overwhelmed with emotion as we finally bring part of our town operations back to our home town,” said mayor Shiro Izawa.

“I pledge to steadily push forward our recovery and reconstruction.”

Town officials say they hope to see Futaba’s former residents return, but prospects are grim because of lingering concerns about radiation.

PA