Futaba Town, Fukushima Prefecture, is the host for Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Following the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, explosions occurred in the plant’s nuclear reactor buildings, threatening the entire area of the town with radioactive contamination. The Japanese government instructed all residents of Futaba Town, including the town’s government, to evacuate. This evacuation began the following day, March 12.
Five years have passed since then, but 96% of Futaba Town is still exposed to high levels of radioactivity and retains government designation as a “difficult-to-return-to zone.” Therefore, the people of Futaba Town are not yet allowed to return.
Here we outline how Futaba Town’s people and government, after suffering this nuclear hazard, left their hometown and came to their current situation through the twists and turns of the evacuation process.
1. About Futaba Town
2. Evacuation immediately following the Great East Japan Earthquake
3. Evacuation to Saitama Prefecture
4. Transfer of administrative functions to Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture
5. Revitalization of the town
Futaba Town, of Futaba County, is located in eastern Fukushima Prefecture in the Tohoku Region. The town is included in the “Hamadori Area” of the prefecture, which faces the Pacific Ocean (the Sea of Kashima) to the east. The town covers an area of 51.42 square kilometers, and was home to a population of 6,830 as of March 11, 2011, when the earthquake struck. Futaba Town’s official introduces it as “featuring a very livable natural environment with a comparatively warm climate and small amount of winter snowfalls despite its location in the Tohoku Region (typically with plenty of snow).”
At 14:46 on Friday, March 11, 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake broke out off the Pacific coast. Futaba Town was exposed to major quakes, and approximately 50 minutes later, a tsunami hit the coast of the town. The tsunami also affected the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant of Tokyo Electric Power Company (hereafter, “the nuclear power plant”), situated in the coastal region of Futaba Town and its neighboring town of Okuma, and triggered a nuclear reactor accident. At 19:03, the Japanese government declared a “state of nuclear emergency.”
That same evening, the town government set up shelters at Futaba Junior High School, Futaba Kita Elementary School, Healthcare Futaba, and other locations, housing over 2,500 townspeople overnight. Some evacuees left the shelters at midnight.
At 5:44 on the following day—Saturday, March 12—the Japanese government issued an evacuation notice to all residents within a 10-kilometer radius of the nuclear power plant. At 8:00, the Futaba Town government guided residents to evacuate to Kawamata Town, of Date County, Fukushima Prefecture, located 50 kilometers away. Approximately 2,200 residents of Futaba Town headed for eleven shelters in Kawamata Town, located in elementary schools and other facilities. Evacuees are reported to have taken five to six hours to arrive at these shelters. At 15:36 on the same day, the unit 1 reactor building of the nuclear power plant exploded.
On Saturday, March 19, the people of Futaba Town left Kawamata Town and headed for the city of Saitama in Saitama Prefecture, about 300 kilometers away. Five days previously, on Monday, March 14, the unit 3 reactor building of the nuclear power plant had exploded, followed by the unit 4 building on Tuesday, March 15.
The evacuees of Futaba Town arrived at Saitama Super Arena in Chuo Ward of Saitama City, Saitama Prefecture, and spent ten days there. On Wednesday and Thursday, March 30–31, they moved again, this time into the facilities of the old Saitama Prefectural Kisai High School (closed in 2008) located in Kazo City in the same Prefecture for their third evacuation trip. The Old Kisai High School Shelter was set up to provide living space for a maximum of 1,400 people.
Prior to opening this shelter, the government of Saitama Prefecture had called for volunteers to clean the school buildings, which had been deserted for some time. When the people of Futaba Town arrived at the school, they found messages from the cleaning volunteers written on some of the rooms’ blackboards: “We are with you!”
On Friday, April 1, Futaba Town’s Saitama branch office was set up in the old Kisai High School site, and would serve as a hub for Futaba Town for the following two years and three months.
On Thursday, April 21, the government of Japan designated all area within a 20-kilometer radius of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, including the entire area of Futaba Town, a “warning zone” and strictly restricted entry of residents into the area. To provide services for townspeople who had evacuated to other areas, the government of Futaba Town set up Inawashiro Liaison Office in Inawashiro Town of Yama County, Fukushima Prefecture (Friday, April 1), Fukushima branch (later Koriyama branch) in Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture (Friday, October 28), and Tsukuba Liaison Office in Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture (Monday, December 19).
On Monday, October 15, 2012, the government of Futaba Town announced a transfer of its administrative base to Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture, located 150 kilometers from the old Kisai High School. This marked the return of Futaba Town to Fukushima Prefecture. Construction of the new town hall started the following year on Monday, February 25, 2013, and was completed by Monday, June 10, of the same year.
Following the official transfer of administrative functions, carried out between Wednesday, June 12 and Friday, June 14, Futaba Town’s Iwaki office opened on Monday, June 17. On Tuesday, October 1, the town’s old Saitama branch office was transferred to the Kisai general branch of Kazo’s municipal office.
During this same period, a project was started to preserve materials concerning the Great East Japan Earthquake, which had thus far been kept at town offices and shelters, for future generations. The town government decided not to discard the documents and materials not brought to the new town hall. This policy was explained to residents’ associations, which had been developing activities at shelters, and the town government asked for the associations’ cooperation.
Around the same time, the government of Japan reviewed the evacuation zones. On Tuesday, May 28, the areas of Futaba Town were reclassified into a zone pending lift of the evacuation order (about 4%) and a difficult-to-return zone (about 96%).
On Tuesday, June 25, the government of Futaba Town established the “Plan for Revitalization of Futaba Town (First Version).” On Wednesday, March 5, 2014, it formulated the “Project Plan (Implementation Plan) Based on the Plan for Revitalization of Futaba Town (First Version),” showing detailed policies concerning future revitalization of the town. The revitalization plan outlines “formation of a community of Futaba’s townspeople through distributed networks”; these networks are to center on the Iwaki office, with revitalization public housings in the cities of Iwaki, Koriyama, Minamisoma, and Shirakawa (Fukushima Prefecture) playing roles as “offshore bases of Futaba Town.” The Futaba Town government names this form of community a “temporary town.”
In August 2014, construction of Futaba Town school facilities in Iwaki (Futaba Kindergarten, Futaba Minami Elementary School, Futaba Kita Elementary School, and Futaba Junior High School) were completed. In 2015, decontamination works began in areas of Futaba Town. As of December 2015, however, no efforts have yet been made to remove the accident-stricken nuclear reactors or to return Futaba Town’s evacuees to their homes.
– Futaba Town, “Outline of Damage of Futaba Town from the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Accident,” October 2013 (in Japanese)
– Futaba Town, “Plan for Revitalization of Futaba Town (First Version),” June 2013 (in Japanese)
– Futaba Town, “Project Plan (Implementation Plan) Based on the Plan for Revitalization of Futaba Town (First Version),” March 2014 (in Japanese)
– Futaba Town, “Current Disaster Status of Futaba Town and Tasks for Revitalization: Toward ‘Revitalization of Individual Residents’ and ‘Revitalization of the Town as a Whole,’” PPT presentation material, January 2015 (in Japanese)
– Local Authorities Systems Development Center, “Futaba Town, Fukushima Prefecture, An Extraction from Municipal Government ICT in 3.11 Crisis: Lessons from the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Crisis (A Field Survey Report)” (in Japanese)
(http://www.soumu.go.jp/main_content/000156852.pdf, accessed March 16, 2015)
– Fukushima Minpo News, “Shelter at Listel Inawashiro Closed: People of Futaba Town Move to Shirakawa and Koriyama Cities,” October 1, 2011 (in Japanese)
(http://www.minpo.jp/pub/topics/jishin2011/2011/10/post_2053.html, accessed March 16, 2015)
– Fukushima Minpo News, “Futaba Town Iwaki Office Completed: Starts Business on the 17th,” June 11, 2013 (in Japanese)
(http://www.minpo.jp/pub/topics/jishin2011/2013/06/post_7369.html, accessed March 16, 2015)
– Fukushima Minpo News, “The Last Shelter Closes Next March: Evacuees of Futaba Town Move from the Old Kisai High School in Kazo, Saitama,” December 28, 2013 (in Japanese)
(http://www.minpo.jp/pub/topics/jishin2011/2013/12/post_8929.html, accessed March 16, 2015)