” The big question
It’s been nearly eight years since the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, which sent radiation plumes floating across the world and forced the evacuation of much of the surrounding area. Now, with the Olympics coming to Tokyo next year, Fukushima is being set up as a symbol of hope, recovery and a return to normalcy. But some of the area’s former residents remain afraid to come back, and towns still lie deserted despite government assurances. So we asked Post Tokyo bureau chief Simon Denyer, who recently visited the area: Is life in Fukushima really getting back to normal?
“That’s certainly the impression Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to create. The Olympic torch relay will start in Fukushima, and the city will host baseball and softball as well.
“The city of Fukushima, perhaps 50 miles from the nuclear plant, is bustling, with radiation levels comparable to Hong Kong and London. Japan’s strict testing program shows that its farm and fisheries products are absolutely safe. Tourist arrivals and food exports from the prefecture have both recovered to beyond their pre-accident levels.
“But the towns nearest the plant offer a different story. Some areas remain off limits due to radiation, and the mountainous forests surrounding the area are virtually impossible to decontaminate. Even in towns that have been cleared for people to return, residents remain extremely wary — especially families with young children.
“In the town of Namie, cleared for resettlement two years ago, less than 5 percent of the pre-disaster population has returned. A sign telling customers to make themselves at home is still displayed in a bar, but debris litters the floor inside. A karaoke parlor is boarded up. Wild boars, monkeys and palm civets still roam the streets.
“In another town, I saw a deserted ramen restaurant — bowls, glasses, bottles of soy sauce and even a pack of cigarettes abandoned on the counter, as they were on March 11, 2011, when an earthquake and tsunami struck the region. The restaurant is still off-limits and coated in dust I wasn’t about to touch.
“The government says the plant itself may take 30 or 40 years to decommission, and the cleanup will cost $200 billion. But the technology does not yet exist to safely remove hundreds of tons of molten fuel from the stricken reactors. Independent experts say it could take much longer and cost much more.” ”
by Adam Taylor, The Washington Post, Today’s WorldView