Fukushima Minpo. September 11, 2020
Keiko Shigihara, 58, soaks up the summer sun as she looks over her property in the village of Iitate in Fukushima Prefecture, from where she evacuated after the meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The land where her home used to be is now an empty lot. Cherry trees and oak trees are the only things left.
Iitate’s Nagadoro administrative district, where her home was located, was designated a no-go zone due to its high radiation levels. But the Environment Ministry later designated the district as an area where radiation-tainted soil removed as part of the decontamination process would be reused to fill the land for farming.
The project is slated to begin by March 2021.
That peaceful lifestyle was upended in 2011. Life in evacuation, bleak as it was, continued for years, and the family did not know if they could ever return or what would happen to their home.
But, at the end of 2016, the government said, out of the blue, that it was planning to bury the contaminated soil to create arable land.
“Contaminated soil was supposed to be taken to an intermediate storage facility” where it’s preserved safely, Shigihara said. She was worried whether it was safe to bury it in the ground.
Naturally, the plan drew concern from local residents.
Deliberation between the central government, the village and its residents spanned a year.
Local residents were worried about whether it was possible for people to live there again if they were to go ahead with the project, or that a damaging reputation would haunt agricultural products harvested there.
But the government pressed on, saying it will be an experimental case to reuse contaminated soil in local areas. The government ensured it would also closely monitor radiation levels in the air and conduct tests to make sure the produce is safe.
In the end, locals gave in and the project was given the green light in November 2017.
In April 2018, 186 hectares of the Nagadoro administrative district’s 1,080 hectares were designated for the project. The village of Iitate proposed in May to lift evacuation orders.
At the end of last year, Shigihara’s cherished home was demolished for the plan. Watching it be torn down would have been too painful, so she waited to return until after it was done.
“Anything to help my hometown recover,” she said.
Fresh produce is being cultivated nearby and experiments have been conducted to plant crops on contaminated soil without adding a layer of uncontaminated soil.
In the long wait for Nagadoro’s residents to return home, the clock has finally begun moving again.