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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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Yuriko Igari, age 81, lives in evacuee housing in Iwaki city. During a day trip back to Naraha with her son, she visits family graves and the guesthouse she used to run. She writes that her “Hope is for the reconstruction of Naraha town, and I go back there because I don’t want the incident (what happened to Naraha) to be forgotten.” Her son writes “I hope the situation is settled and we come back here under blue sky soon.” However, in separate conversations, both mother and son confess that they are in the midst of a yearlong argument: Yuriko wants to move back to Naraha to reopen the guesthouse; her son has forbid it. He fears that her health is too frail to survive the stress and work of returning. She has had two heart attacks since the tsunami. [insert direct quote]<br />
© Michael Forster Rothbart Photography<br />
www.
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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