A foreign correspondent whose career consists of traveling to dangerous regions around the world has called the area around Fukushima, Japan, one of the most hopeless places he has ever visited, likening it to a "post apocalyptic ghost town."
"I have seen abandoned villages before; most times there is a sense of finality to them," writes Arglit Boonyai, host of the weekly Channel NewsAsia show Danger Zone. "It is as though the town's time is up and the people have moved on. Fukushima is nothing like that. It's like time just stopped."
Danger Zone is a show about Boonyai's visits to some of the world's most dangerous places in order to try to understand of how ordinary people cope with living there. In addition to Fukushima, he has previously traveled to Iraq and into the heart of the Liberian Ebola epidemic.
Herculean cleanup effort
In March 2011, Japan was devastated by a massive earthquake and tsunami, which then triggered multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Explosions at the plant sent a massive plume of radioactive material spreading across the surrounding countryside.
Four years later, 70,000 people are still unable to return to their homes due to radioactive contamination. Local agriculture has been hobbled due to concerns over radioactive crops.
While filming the show, Boonyai and his crew visited the town of Tomioka, which was littered with signs of how abruptly the town had been abandoned, such as wedding albums and children's toys scattered everywhere.
"If the tsunami had not destroyed most of the shops and houses in the area, there would be no explanation as to why the people there ever left," he writes, "or why nature had slowly begun reclaiming the land covering collapsed buildings and the local train station."
While some areas around Fukushima felt like ghost towns, others bustled with activity. The Japanese government has set a goal of completely cleaning up the radioactive waste from the disaster, even though radioactive material has infiltrated everything from the soil under people's feet to the dust in the air they breathe.
"Workers work tirelessly to remove [radioactive fallout] inch by inch, mostly with the help of machines, but in some cases I witnessed clean-up crews scrubbing the side of buildings with steel tooth brushes," Boonyai writes.
He notes that many locals have joined the effort as volunteers, particularly elderly residents who believe they are too old to worry about health effects from radiation.
"Lack of hope"
"But despite this shared sense of duty and extraordinary effort to return Fukushima to normal, I fear that here, more than anywhere else, has a distinct lack of hope," Boonyai writes.
"Refugees living in temporary housing do not expect to return to their homes. Scientists and radiation specialists do not expect the land to be free from danger any time soon."
Based on his visit to the region, Boonyai agrees with the assessment that the region will remain largely uninhabitable for decades.
The problems become more severe as one gets closer to the plant itself. In July 2014, Kyoto University assistant professor Hiroaki Koide described the area directly around the plant as a radioactive swamp. Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has been stockpiling radioactive water on the site -- water used to cool the reactors and groundwater leaking into the failed reactors both become radioactive and build up rapidly -- but numerous leaks have rendered the entire area highly dangerous.
Meanwhile, TEPCO has pushed back the timeline to begin decommissioning the crippled reactors themselves to 2025 due to technical difficulties. The company claims the project will be finished by 2051, but the head of the plant has publicly disputed this claim.
He says the technology does not yet exist to clean up Fukushima Daiichi, and it might not exist for centuries.
(Natural News Science)