This Town Affected in Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Will Reopen to the Public in April 2019

Mar 28, 2019

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Amid heavy decontamination efforts in Okuma, Japan (one of the many towns affected by the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in 2011), city officials are planning to partially open the town back up to the public in 2019.

The Fukushima Dai-ichi, or No. 1, was a plant that contained four nuclear reactors. The disaster was initially triggered by a deadly earthquake and tsunami that killed over 18,000 people. When the tremors hit the plant, three of the reactors had meltdowns while one had severe structural damage. This caused an outpour of radiation, as well as an influx of nuclear fluids that contaminated parts of the Pacific Ocean. Since then, Okuma has been virtually inhabitable.

Yet, according to reports by Cabinet Office official Yohei Ogino, conditions in the area have been vastly improving in recent years — enough so that the Japanese government believes that parts of it will be safe to re-enter by April 10.

Edwin Lyman, the acting director of the Nuclear Safety Project and nuclear expert, said that decontamination efforts consist of the cleaning or removing of radioactive-affected surfaces and objects in the area such as soil, buildings, forest land and agricultural land by dumping it in temporary disposal facilities.

“The accident dispersed a pretty large quantity of radioactive isotopes including one in particular called CS-137,” Lyman said in an interview with TPG. “This isotope has a half-life of 30 years, meaning that it persists in the environment for more like 300 years. That’s a particular problem because it gives off very potent radioactivity that can penetrate the human body. So it increases the environmental radiation background.”

As for how effective decontamination is, Lyman suggested that certain areas within the exclusion zone probably aren’t going to be safe for a long, long time. “You can decontaminate the lower lying areas, but the next time there’s a rainfall you can wash the contamination back into the areas they just cleaned up,” said Lyman. “So that could be a wasted effort.”

Despite this, Lonely Planet theorized that the reopening of certain parts of Okuma could cause a new tourism push to the town. Some areas of the Fukushima Prefecture are already being promoted as spots for surfing, skiing and scenic hot springs. However, the closed off parts of Fukushima also have been attracting its own brand of tourism. “Urban explorers” and other curious travelers have been stopping in to catch a glimpse of the abandoned town for a few years now. There are even official walking tours available for visitors.

Here are some pictures that were taken in the Fukushima Exclusion Zone in the past eight years:

*** EXCLUSIVE ***OKUMA, FUKUSHIMA, JUNE 2016: Among the locations Keow explored during his time there was an empty supermarket full of merchandise dating back to 2011, reminders of the 150,000 people were forced to leave, Okuma, Fukushima, June 2016. A DAREDEVIL urban explorer has shared haunting images of the abandoned Fukushima earthquake exclusion zone after sneaking in to the highly irradiated region. Wearing a gas mask but no other protective clothing, explorer and photographer Keow Wee Loong, 27, visited four of the evacuated towns in Fukushima - Tomioka, Okuma, Namie and Futaba - in June this year with friends friends Sherena Ng and Koji Hori. Lying completely untouched since March 2011, the city of Fukushima was evacuated suddenly after the east coast of Japan was devastated by a massive earthquake followed by a huge tsunami. Keows images give an eerie insight into the panic that followed the disaster and show a city stuck in time as calendars remain on the same date, families' clean washing is half-removed from driers and newspapers forever remain unsold. PHOTOGRAPH BY Keow Wee Loong / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftimages.com (Photo credit should read Keow Wee Loong / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
(Keow Wee Loong / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
This picture taken on March 5, 2018 shows an abandoned drugstore and bookstore in Futaba town, Fukushima prefecture, as Japan prepares to mark the 7th anniversary of the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami that triggered the Fukushima nuclear disaster.The nuclear accident, following a tsunami and earthquake on March 11, 2011, drove more than 160,000 people from their homes, some by evacuation order and others by choice. Some have since returned but many stayed away, creating a new life elsewhere amid lingering concerns about radiation. / AFP PHOTO / Behrouz MEHRI (Photo credit should read BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)
(BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)
FUKUSHIMA, JAPAN - JANUARY 24: Cemetery destroyed and abandoned due to the 3.11 tsunami is seen in Namie, Fukushima prefecture, Japan on January 24, 2019. Reconstruction and cleanup of the areas affected by the 3.11 tsunami and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident continue almost 8 years after. (Photo by Shiho Fukada for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
(Photo by Shiho Fukada for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
FUKUSHIMA, JAPAN - JANUARY 24: Abandoned hair salon is seen in Namie, Fukushima prefecture, Japan on January 24, 2019. Reconstruction and cleanup of the areas affected by the 3.11 tsunami and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident continue almost 8 years after. (Photo by Shiho Fukada for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
(Photo by Shiho Fukada for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Rusted playground equipments at an abandoned park in Namie, Fukushima prefecture at 10 March 2019. - On March 11, 2011, a devastating 9.0-magnitude quake struck under the Pacific Ocean, and the resulting tsunami caused widespread damage and claimed thousands of lives. (Photo by Yusuke Harada/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
(Photo by Yusuke Harada/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A destroyed bar has been abandoned in Namie, Fukushima prefecture at 10 March 2019. - On March 11, 2011, a devastating 9.0-magnitude quake struck under the Pacific Ocean, and the resulting tsunami caused widespread damage and claimed thousands of lives. (Photo by Yusuke Harada/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
(Photo by Yusuke Harada/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A destroyed house with a bill which says keep out due to Fear of collapse in Namie, Fukushima prefecture at 10 March 2019. - On March 11, 2011, a devastating 9.0-magnitude quake struck under the Pacific Ocean, and the resulting tsunami caused widespread damage and claimed thousands of lives. (Photo by Yusuke Harada/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
(Photo by Yusuke Harada/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
NAMIE, JAPAN - MAY 23: Ahouse destroyed by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami five years after, fukushima prefecture, namie, Japan on May 23, 2016 in Namie, Japan. (Photo by Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images)
(Photo by Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images)
NAMIE, JAPAN - MAY 23: Ashrine to victims of the 2011 tsunami, fukushima prefecture, namie, Japan on May 23, 2016 in Namie, Japan. (Photo by Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images)
(Photo by Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images)

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People often compare the Fukushima Exclusion Zone to Chernobyl, which experienced its own infamous devastating nuclear disaster in 1986, although the impact there was significantly larger. Urban explorers have also had a Chernobyl fascination with the area and it has since been open to walking tours as well.

Whether Fukushima Prefecture officials plan on leaving remnants of the disaster for tourism purposes intact is currently unknown. A majority of the area will remain closed to the public, as it’s not free of harmful radiation yet, but the Japanese government hopes to have 11% of the town open to residents by 2022.

Featured photo by Lars Nicolaysen/picture alliance via Getty Images.

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