Latest: Japan lifts four-year evacuation of Fukushima town

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Fukushima disaster

TOKYO — For the first time since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, residents of a certain town can return full-time if they wish.

The Japanese government on Saturday lifted an evacuation order for the small town of Naraha, about 16 kilometers (10 miles) south of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant in Fukushima prefecture, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported.

The town is within the 20-kilometer radius that the government evacuated after a March 2011 earthquake unleashed a tsunami that damaged reactors at the nuclear plant. The damage caused a series of meltdowns and a major release of radioactive material.

The government said radiation levels at Naraha have fallen to acceptable levels after decontamination work, Kyodo reported.

Japan previously lifted evacuation orders in two smaller areas, but Saturday was the first time that the order has been rescinded for a town where every resident had been told to evacuate, according to Kyodo.

Naraha residents had been allowed to be in the town during the daytime since April. Saturday’s move lifts all restrictions, according to Kyodo.

The news agency reported that it’s not clear how many of the town’s roughly 7,400 residents will return.

Four years after the nuclear crisis, the radiation levels inside Fukushima Daiichi’s three damaged reactors still are extremely high and remain unsafe for people to enter. Work to decommission the plant is estimated to cost $50 billion and will take years to complete.