25 Juillet 2016
July 24, 2016
FUKUSHIMA – Regional banks in Fukushima Prefecture are reopening outlets in radiation-contaminated areas to help lure residents back more than five years after the triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant laid waste to the region in March 2011.
Residents have been slow to return despite the phased lifting of evacuation orders in cleaned-up areas, so regional banks are eager to play a trailblazing role by allowing residents to use their branches as places to socialize.
Abukuma Shinkin Bank, based in Minamisoma, reopened its Odaka branch there in March 2013 and the branch in the town of Namie on July 12.
The evacuation order for the central part of Namie is expected to be lifted by the end of next March, but there are still structures that collapsed from the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake.
“We’ll put the light on in the town where people do not live,” said Yoshihiro Ota, president of Abukuma Shinkin, stressing the significance of reopening the Namie branch.
Abukuma Shinkin became the first financial institution to reopen a branch in Namie, which sits next to the town of Futaba, one of the two municipalities that host the crippled Fukushima No. 1 plant, which lost all power after being swamped by tsunami spawned by the temblor. The plant is run by Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc.
“We hope our branch, where local people can stop by freely and enjoy chatting, will become a place that can console them,” said Takahiro Abe, chief of the Namie branch.
“Being the first to reopen a branch in the town will hopefully allow us to attract people and see rises in deposits and loans,” Abe added.
In April, Toho Bank, based in the city of Fukushima, restarted its branch in Naraha, another town close to the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
Although the evacuation order for Naraha was lifted last September, only 8.1 percent of its residents had returned as of July 4.
“Financial institutions are indispensable regional infrastructure,” said Hiroshi Yamaka, chief of Toho Bank’s Naraha branch. “Regional banks have a major role to play in helping residents return home.”
But it is not easy to achieve industrial revival in contaminated areas neglected by the long evacuation.
A male business owner who visited Abukuma Shinkin’s Namie branch on the day it reopened said, “The bank told me that they will lend me money, but I can’t decide on new investment because I’m old and there’s no one I can hand over my business to.”