Forestry was once a thriving industry in Fukushima – until the 2011 nuclear disaster struck. More than 70 percent of the prefecture is covered with trees, but large areas have been abandoned or neglected.
“It’s regrettable. I didn’t even imagine things were so bad,” says forester Akimoto Kimio, who visited a plantation in Tomioka, about 10 kilometers away from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Ever since an earthquake and tsunami triggered a triple meltdown at the facility, the forest has been abandoned. Some of its most prized pine trees, more than 50 years old, have died.
Akimoto, 72, heads a local forestry cooperative that was relocated elsewhere in the prefecture following the nuclear accident. But after nine years and eight months, it returned to Tomioka on November 4.
His cooperative used to have 20 workers. At one point, the number dwindled to just two. Akimoto has worked hard to keep it afloat, negotiating with the central government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company on decontamination work and compensation. He believes forest preservation will one day help to ensure evacuated residents can return.
Unattended areas of woodland can pose various risks, including fires. A contaminated forest would be particularly hazardous in the event of a landslide, because the mud flow is likely to contain radioactive substances.
“We will help lay the groundwork to ensure residents can return worry-free. We hope many will come home.”