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Japan Earthquake and Tsunami 5th Anniversary

Photographer: Franck Robichon

 

Five years after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami and the ensuing disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, all the stores remain shuttered. The town is entirely within the exclusion zone that was imposed after the disaster. The only remaining inhabitants are the rats after authorities evacuated the 20 kilometer area around the plant when it suffered explosions and radiation leaks, forcing Namie’s 21,000 residents to leave. But ‘even the rats finally left our house’, explained Yuzo Mihara, ‘maybe because there is nothing to eat anymore!’. As authorities allow residents to make temporary returns, Yuzo Mihara and his wife Yuko come back to their house four times a year to clean and gather belongings. Yuzo explained that the toys and bicycles in their store were left in such a mess after the magnitude-9 earthquake that he only just managed to make his way through his store a few months ago. About 70 per cent of Namie’s evacuees were relocated within Fukushima prefecture, while the rest were dispersed all over the country. Mihara’s family started a new life in Chiba prefecture, some 235 kilometers away. According to a survey conducted in September 2015 by the town hall, almost half of Namie’s evacuees have decided not to return. Decontamination efforts - house cleaning, soil and vegetation removal - is increasing, but slow progress has meant that most of Namie’s residents have abandoned their hopes of returning home.

 

Namie is located north west of the nuclear plant and there are plans to allow about 5,000 of its residents to return to certain areas by March 2017, when the levels of radiation will be relatively low, and officials have already started working at the town hall to prepare for their return. The municipal authorities hope to help businesses that could provide food for those involved in decontamination work, or the decommissioning of the six nuclear reactors at the plant. As for now, a couple of gas stations and a convenience store are open during the day. The town remains empty of people and there are black bags of radiation-contaminated waste everywhere. Many of the black sacks stuffed with contaminated soil, leaves and other debris are stored in so-called ‘interim storage facilities’, waiting to be moved to their final destinations in an area close to the nuclear plant, where high radiation levels prevent locals from returning. Millions of bags will have to retain their radioactive contents in the years to come, but their durability are in question.

 

But not all towns near Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have the same plans for the future. Tomioka, 10 kilometres south of the site, saw more than 15,000 residents evacuated following the meltdown. Five years after the disaster, the town remains empty and hosts a large storage facility of contaminated soil and debris where the train station was standing.