6 years after nuclear disaster, residents trickle back to deserted towns

NAMIE —

A truck occasionally whizzes past the darkened shops with cracked walls and fallen signs that line the main street of Japan’s mostly deserted seaside town of Namie.

Workers repair a damaged home nearby, and about 60 employees busily prepare for the return of former residents in the largely untouched town hall. Not far away, two wild boars stick their snouts in someone’s yard, snuffling for food.

Signs of life are returning nearly six years after panicked residents fled radiation spewed by the nearby Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, when it was struck by an earthquake and tsunami.

Still, only several hundred of the original 21,500 residents plan to return in the first wave, estimates Hidezo Sato, a former seed merchant who helped draw up a blueprint to rebuild the town.

“As a person who used to sell seeds for a living, I believe now is a time to sow seeds” for rebuilding, said Sato, 71. “Harvesting is far away. But I hope I can manage to help bring about fruition.”

Since November, people who registered have been allowed to spend nights in the town, but residents will not need permission to stay round the clock after Japan lifts evacuation orders for parts of Namie and three other towns at the end of March.

Just 4 km away from the wrecked plant, Namie is the closest area cleared for the return of residents since the disaster of March 11, 2011.

But the town will never be the same, as radiation contamination has left a big area off limits. And it may never be inhabitable.

More than half - 53% - of former residents have decided not to return, a government poll showed last September. They cited concerns over radiation and the safety of the nuclear plant, which is being dismantled in an arduous, 40-year effort.

More than three-quarters of those aged 29 or less do not intend to return, which means old people could form the bulk of the town’s population in a future largely devoid of children.

“Young people will not go back,” said Yasuo Fujita, a former Namie resident who runs a restaurant in Tokyo, the capital.
“There will neither be jobs nor education for children.”

Fujita said he did not want to live near a possible storage site for contaminated soil, now being systematically removed.

Radiation levels at Namie town hall stood at 0.07 microsieverts per hour on Feb 28, little different from the rest of Japan.

But in the nearby town of Tomioka, a dosimeter read 1.48 microsieverts an hour, nearly 30 times higher than in downtown Tokyo, underscoring lingering radiation hotspots.

For the towns’ evacuation orders to be lifted, radiation must fall below 20 millisieverts per year. They must also have functioning utilities and telecoms systems, besides basic health, elderly care and postal services.

Namie, which used to have six grade schools and three middle schools, plans to eventually open a joint elementary-junior high school. So children will need to commute to schools elsewhere initially.

A hospital opens later this month, staffed with one full-time and several part-time doctors.

Reconstruction efforts may create some jobs. The town’s mayor, Tamotsu Baba, hopes to draw research and robotics firms.

Prospects for business are not exactly bright in the short term, but lumber company president Munehiro Asada said he restarted his factory in the town to help drive its recovery.

“Sales barely reach a tenth of what they used to be,” he said. “But running the factory is my priority. If no one returns, the town will just disappear.”

Some former Namie residents say the evacuation orders should remain until radiation levels recede and the dismantling of the ruined nuclear plant has advanced.

But it is now or never for his town, Mayor Baba believes. “Six long years have passed. If the evacuation is prolonged further, people’s hearts will snap,” he said. “The town could go completely out of existence.”

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2017.

  • 0

    Disillusioned

    Let's hope the government gets in there and controls all the wild pigs, feral cats and other vermin that have taken over these towns before the people move back in. And, send the bill to TEPCO. Don't stick the bill on local people's land and city taxes,

  • 9

    zichi

    The 20Km exclusion zone should remain until all work is completed at the nuclear disaster plant in probably about 100 years or more. The government should purchase all the land and homes eventually declaring the area a national park and monument to the disasters of 2011.

    These communities will never return to what they were pre nuclear disaster and its just stupid to spend billions on decontamination works when the majority of people don't want to return. Just part of the government policy to show nuclear energy in a better light.

  • 4

    Hideomi Kuze

    to defend Nuclear industries, Japan's Abe government still understate Radioactive contamination,and deny existence of Radiation disease at genaral public.

    but Thyroid abnormalities is increasing in eastern japan.

  • 5

    GW

    Zichi beat me to it, this is simply pure insanity having a tiny few move back & at what COSTS.....

    There needs to be a some REAL HARD decisions made, but frankly Namie seems easy, NO to moving back, yes its sad, but its simple, its way beyond foolish to move back that close to the meltdowns.

    Japan needs to male more hard decisions to prevent another disaster or the fiscal kind, ie throwing good $$$ at a bad situation

    But sadly there is too much money to be made making these towns into white elephants......

  • 3

    thepersoniamnow

    I'm sure that in 10-20 years we will then hear about how all those people and thus their children who returned, now suffer from strange illnesses that they had "no knowledge of" back in 2017. I would be very distrustful of the governments official stances towards anything nuclear. These people do not care if you die of cancer! They only care if they have to bow in apology on tape.

  • 1

    Blattamexiguus

    So quoting a 71 year old who is one of a few hundred who want to go back and die where they grew up. What part of these towns being finished don't they understand? Not as if other rural areas don't have problems with depopulation and aging residents. These are now and will be for the foreseeable future nothing more than ghost towns. Time has long past for a reality check! And stop wasting my taxes!

  • 1

    Patricia Yarrow

    Zichi-sama, You are alive! I have wondered at your long absence. I guess this crazy plan to return to "safe" zones is what it took to bring you back to us. Please keep posting. It seems to me the general NHK coverage is bent towards a glossy rose outlook for the "beginning of recovery". Myself, I think everyone should stay far, far away from Fukushima milk etc. It's very sad, but people must accept that this area is highly questionable to return to.

  • 2

    zichi

    @Patricia Yarrow and others

    Yes thank you to you and others. I continued to read JT but just spent time disconnected from all social networking and I'm still not sure how much I still want to post. I'll try to post at least a little more frequently. Smiles!

  • -1

    Dom Palmer

    but Thyroid abnormalities is increasing in eastern japan

    No, they aren't. When intensive testing, like what was done to former Fukushima residents, has been done in other areas of Japan similar levels of 'thyroid abnormalities' have been found.

    I'm sure that in 10-20 years we will then hear about how all those people and thus their children who returned, now suffer from strange illnesses that they had "no knowledge of" back in 2017.

    Doubtful. It has been over 30 years since Chernobyl and no strange illnesses have surfaced, just well know effects of radiation exposure, exposure levels which didn't happen at Fukushima.

    And there are numerous people who have returned or never left the Chernobyl area that show no ill effects.

  • -1

    zichi

    It has been over 30 years since Chernobyl and no strange illnesses have surfaced

    I suppose you don't count the extreme mutations of human and animal life?

  • -3

    Heda_Madness

    Animals are thriving in Chernobyl. It seems that man is far worse for them than radiation.

  • -1

    zichi

    How so sad for the victims of Chernobyl when other people just don't accept the truth and evidence or just simplify the sufferings like some matter of fact.

  • -1

    Heda_Madness

    Sorry... but what I said about the animals is a fact. And can be found on any decent scientific website... National Geographic, IFLS and newscientist etc.

    https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn28281-wildlife-is-thriving-around-chernobyl-since-the-people-left/

    In fact New Scientist even uses the phrase that you've taken exception to... that the animals are THRIVING

    I didn't mention the 'extreme mutations' of human life because I don't have sufficient information to comment. Though I do know that the initial and expected figures of cancers etc were proven to be well and truly incorrect.

  • -1

    Aly Rustom

    https://chernobylguide.com/chernobyl_mutations/

  • 0

    Heda_Madness

    Interesting link though not one I'd use to form an opinion on without any scientific evidence/facts etc. Not to mention one that uses the language of a junior high school textbook. But as I said, I don't have enough information to comment on mutations, the extent of them or the impact. But we do know the official death toll into Chernobyl from the UN put the predicted number of deaths at 4000

    Also interesting that you both seem to disagree with the new scientist article.

  • -2

    Aly Rustom

    Interesting link though not one I'd use to form an opinion on without any scientific evidence/facts etc.

    No of course not. You want everyone to believe that the wildlife around Chernobyl is just fine.

    But as I said, I don't have enough information to comment on mutations, the extent of them or the impact.

    But you just did. here

    Animals are thriving in Chernobyl

    and here

    Sorry... but what I said about the animals is a fact.

    animals that suffer from genetic mutations are not thriving.

    • Moderator

      And that ends the bickering on this thread. Please focus your comments on what is in the story and not at each other.

Login to leave a comment

OR

グローバルに
活躍したいあなたへ
外資系転職

バイリンガル人材の
ための求人サイト

見てみる

More in National

View all

View all

Time
to Buy
in Japan

Find the perfect home today!

Search