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Naraha mayor Yukiei Matsumoto was one of the first people to move back to Naraha over a year ago — during decontamination and eight months before the town reopened to the public in September 2015. He has been a tireless proponent for his town. He and his staff successfully fought a national government proposal to site a long-term nuclear waste dump in the town; instead they have looked for subsidies and other ways to bring new businesses here and have plans for a new “compact town” urban development with commercial space and housing to replace homes lost in the tsunami. They hope to attract evacuees from towns closer to the nuclear plant who will never be able to return to their original homes. <br />
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Still, despite his efforts to persuade residents and optimistic predictions of growth, he admits that he really doesn’t know how many will return. “First the elderly people are coming back, but our town cannot exist if the children do not come back here,” he says.<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
Naraha mayor Yukiei Matsumoto was one of the first people to move back to Naraha over a year ago — during decontamination and eight months before the town reopened to the public in September 2015. He has been a tireless proponent for his town. He and his staff successfully fought a national government proposal to site a long-term nuclear waste dump in the town; instead they have looked for subsidies and other ways to bring new businesses here and have plans for a new “compact...
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