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Tamaki Sunaguchi is a decontamination laborer working in Tomioka. He was working in the forest division — clearing all underbrush and topsoil in the first 20 meters of any woodland, mostly by hand, and bagging it for incineration. (Forests more than 20 meters from developed areas are left untouched, regardless of radiation levels). Now Sunaguchi has been transferred to a road decontamination crew. “Sometimes we work in highly contaminated areas,” he says. “I worry about health, but I’ll be home after a year of this.” For now, he’s living in the mountains in Kawauchi, in a worker hotel constructed out of a double-high stack of shipping containers converted to dorm rooms.<br />
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There’s a complex maze of contractors, subcontractors and sub-subcontractors that have divied up the government contracts for remediation work. Sunaguchi is employed by Marubeni, a subcontractor for Obayashi, which is in turn one of three corporations decontaminating Tomioka. Some lower-tier subcontractors have been criticized for underpaying workers and withholding high amounts for housing and transportation, but there has been little governmental oversight.<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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Tamaki Sunaguchi is a decontamination laborer working in Tomioka. He was working in the forest division — clearing all underbrush and topsoil in the first 20 meters of any woodland, mostly by hand, and bagging it for incineration. (Forests more than 20 meters from developed areas are left untouched, regardless of radiation levels). Now Sunaguchi has been transferred to a road decontamination crew. “Sometimes we work in highly contaminated areas,” he says. “I worry...
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