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In March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami hit northern Japan and destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Some 488 thousand people evacuated from the three-part disaster; in 2015, nearly 25% remain displaced.<br />
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A massive effort is now underway to decontaminate towns in the Fukushima Exclusion Zone. Thousands of laborers are cleaning or demolishing every building, and removing and incinerating all topsoil in inhabited areas. In the adjacent forests and mountains, radiation levels remain higher and will not be cleaned.<br />
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Naraha, 12 miles south of the nuclear plant, is the first town to reopen after the disaster. Residents were allowed to return home full-time on Sept. 5, 2015. To date, an estimated 100 residents have returned, out of a pre-disaster population of 7,400. <br />
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I returned to Fukushima one week after Naraha reopened and spent a month there, interviewing and photographing returnees and decontamination workers. I asked portrait subjects to write down their hopes and fears for their hometowns, and then discuss these thoughts about their future. People’s written declarations often differed substantially from their spoken comments.<br />
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Masatoshi Ohata is an engineer working to design robots that will decontaminate inside the Fukushima Daiichi plant. He lives in Iwaki but has brought his grandchildren, ages 7 and 11, to go biking at a seaside park in Naraha. His wife, Kumiko Ohata, believes this visit should be safe as long as their stay does not exceed three hours. <br />
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Masatoshi writes, “Please do not forget about the people who are suffering from the damages by tsunami.” As the family walks to their car, he explains the concerns he alluded to: evacuees from the nuclear exclusion zone receive a lot of attention and a high amount of benefits, including free housing and compensation for their losses and “mental anguish”; however, evacuees who lost homes just from the natural disaster are neglected and receive almost no support. [insert direct quote]<br />
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In March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami hit northern Japan and destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Some 488 thousand people evacuated from the three-part disaster; in 2015, nearly 25% remain displaced.

A massive effort is now underway to decontaminate towns in the Fukushima Exclusion Zone. Thousands of laborers are cleaning or demolishing every building, and removing and incinerating all topsoil in inhabited areas. In the adjacent forests and mountains,...
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