April 10 (UPI) -- Japanese residents were allowed Wednesday to return to homes near the Fukushima nuclear plant -- eight years after a meltdown at the power station turned Okuma into a ghost town.
The Japanese government partially lifted the 2011 evacuation order for the town, which co-hosted the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
Officials allowed residents of the Ogawara and Chuyashiki districts in western Okuma to return after radiation levels there dropped dramatically. The area accounted for 40 percent of the town's 11,500 population at the time of the disaster in 2011.
The accident was triggered by a powerful earthquake and tsunami. Authorities later issued evacuation orders to 11 towns surrounding the plant. Futaba, which is adjacent to Okuma, is now the only town still off-limits under the evacuation order.
Some areas in Okuma are being used as a temporary storage area for the toxic soil gathered years ago during decontamination efforts. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to attend a ceremony Sunday to recognize the residents' return.
It's unclear how many Okuma residents will return because many have re-settled in other towns. Only 26 percent of residents have returned.
International environmental nonprofit Greenpeace produced a report last month that called on Japan to abandon plans to lift evacuation orders for Okuma and five other municipalities, saying the radiation levels are still dangerous.
"The Japanese government is defying United Nations human rights specialists who have challenged the policy of lifting evacuation orders and exposing citizens, in particular women and children, to unsafe levels of radiation," the Greenpeace report said.