A large number of residents in Fukushima Prefecture were forced to evacuate because of the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
As many as 119,000 people still remain evacuees in and outside the prefecture.
It is essential to enhance support for the evacuees to help them return to their own, dear homes.
Of 11 cities, towns and villages to which evacuation orders were issued in the wake of the nuclear crisis, orders were lifted for part of the city of Tamura in April and for the eastern area of the village of Kawauchi in October.
Radioactive decontamination projects have made progress in these areas, with radiation levels being lowered significantly.
However, many people shy away from returning home for fear of radioactive pollution.
A number of them may be hesitant about changing their current way of life for various reasons, such as finding new jobs in the areas where they have been evacuated, while their children have become accustomed to school life in the new locations, making friends there.
Expediting the return of evacuees may depend on what happens in Naraha, a town with a registered population of about 7,500.
Almost the entire town has now been designated an "area where preparations should be made for the return of residents."
In light of reduced radiation levels, the town government authorities declared in May 2014 that they would seek the lifting of the evacuation order, effective as early as this spring.
If realised, the lifting of the evacuation order would be the largest in scale, but many of the evacuated residents believe this would be premature.
In the town, mildew has spread in houses, and many are dilapidated with leaking roofs.
About 1,800 houses will either have to be dismantled or rebuilt. Sufficient progress has not been made in this respect because of the shortage of workers.
The fact that there is virtually no accommodation for workers from outside the prefecture is also a major problem.
Job creation a key task
As evacuation orders are lifted in more areas in the future, the shortage of workers is certain to become even more acute.
How to dispose of a huge quantity of waste as a result of the dismantling of structures is another major challenge.
Those who most desire to return home in Naraha are the elderly. Residents aged 39 or younger who replied in a recent survey that they would "return immediately" or "return on certain conditions" accounted for only about 25 per cent of that age bracket.
Indications are that the aging of the town's population, which was on the decline even before the nuclear crisis, will accelerate even if the residents return.
Securing manpower resources for the town's medical and nursing care and other social welfare services is indispensable.
It is essential to create jobs to encourage young residents to return.
Naturally, there is a limit to what can be done by municipalities hit by the nuclear crisis in undertaking on their own such tasks as attracting businesses from outside the prefecture.
Cooperation in this respect must not only come from neighbouring municipalities but also through expanded backing from the central government in tandem with the Fukushima prefectural government to help rebuild affected communities.
Toward the end of last year, the central government's Reconstruction Agency set up an expert study panel to draw up an outline of what the 12 cities, towns and villages in the vicinity of Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant should look like.
The panel is scheduled to come out with a set of proposals in summer on specific steps that should be taken for the reinvigoration of the municipalities through such measures as constructing hubs for medical and educational services, development of tourism resources and industrial and research facilities necessary for decommissioning nuclear reactors.
It is strongly hoped that the proposals by the panel will be sufficiently conducive to resuscitating the crisis-struck region and rebuilding Fukushima Prefecture as a whole.