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Kiyoshi Watanabe owns a commercial laundry operation in Naraha. Although few local residents have returned, his business is recovering. There are thousands of decontamination workers doing remediation in Naraha and nearby towns; most of them live in worker dormitories or basic guesthouses, and Watanabe washes many of their sheets and towels. <br />
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Before the disaster, he had fifteen employees. Now he has seven. He’s hiring — 70% of local businesses are, he says — but he can’t get workers. “People in their 40s, the hardest-working generation, have children so they go to Iwaki and don’t come back.” His hope for the region’s future, he writes, is “beautiful nature,” and his worry: “people.”<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 asked portrait subjects to write down their hopes and fears for their hometowns, and then discuss these thoughts about their future. Many of the subjects spoke openly but were very circumspect about what they were willing to put in writing.<br />
© Michael Forster Rothbart Photography<br />
www.mfrphot
Kiyoshi Watanabe owns a commercial laundry operation in Naraha. Although few local residents have returned, his business is recovering. There are thousands of decontamination workers doing remediation in Naraha and nearby towns; most of them live in worker dormitories or basic guesthouses, and Watanabe washes many of their sheets and towels.

Before the disaster, he had fifteen employees. Now he has seven. He’s hiring — 70% of local businesses are, he says — but...
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