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Tokuo Hayakawa has been an anti-nuclear activist for 45 years and chief monk of the Hyokoji temple in Naraha for 40 years. He opposed the Fukushima Daiichi plant when it opened in 1971, and the 2011 disaster proved what he feared all along, that “nuclear power plants and people can not peacefully coexist.”<br />
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Hayakawa had no qualms about returning to the temple, even though his community has not. Out of 100 families involved in the temple, only five or six have returned, and he is pessimistic that Naraha can ever be a viable town again. Nevertheless, he says he can’t abandon the temple, founded in 1395, despite feeling certain he will be the last head monk here. He had hoped his grandson would take over the temple someday, but now rules out that possibility. “I am definitely the last one. It’s clear that Naraha isn’t a place to live anymore,” he says. “Japan is a small island, we can’t just close an area off. But it’s never been tried before, to bring a whole city back.”<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.<br />
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A massive effort is now underway to decontaminate towns in the Fukushima Exclusion Zone. In Tomioka, 5 to 8 miles from the nuclear plant, 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 440 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 ask
Tokuo Hayakawa has been an anti-nuclear activist for 45 years and chief monk of the Hyokoji temple in Naraha for 40 years. He opposed the Fukushima Daiichi plant when it opened in 1971, and the 2011 disaster proved what he feared all along, that “nuclear power plants and people can not peacefully coexist.”

Hayakawa had no qualms about returning to the temple, even though his community has not. Out of 100 families involved in the temple, only five or six have returned,...
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