The village of Iitate in Japan’s Fukushima prefecture was once home to 6,000 people.
Today, however, it is essentially a ghost town, evacuated after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant just 25 miles (40 kilometers) away following the Tohoku earthquake in March 2011.
While former residents can return to Iitate during the day, it’s still an eerie scene — children’s toys lie abandoned in yards, bicycles rust on front porches and only an occasional truck passes through its quiet streets.
For elderly couple Yukio and Masayo Nakano the last 20 months have not been easy. Yukio lived had lived in his home in the village for more than 60 years, moving in just after World War Two.
“I can’t describe it. It’s hard living in the temporary housing, and it’s very stressful mentally,” he says.
The difficult situation has also taken its toll on his wife Masayo.
“I’m lonely. We’re getting old,” she says. “I think every day how long I can survive in this situation.”
Only one building — the town’s nursing home — has permanent residents. Following consultation with their families and the Japanese government, the 80 or so people living there were allowed to stay despite the evacuation order.
Miyoko Sato, a former Iitate resident who left after the nuclear accident, returns to work there each week for a very simple reason.
“These people will stay here for the rest of their life,” she says.
“And I cherish them just like a family member. But I don’t know if our village will be able to come back anytime soon.”
However some are trying to make the village inhabitable for all: crews who have the hazardous task of trying to clean up from one of the worst nuclear accidents the world has ever seen.
They perform repetitive tasks — wiping down buildings with damp cloths, and using high pressure hoses to clean drainage systems along the streets.
Workers are also clearing a layer of top soil in Iitate, as well as the numerous other affected areas of Fukushima prefecture.
But it’s an endless task, as it’s a region that’s roughly the size of greater Tokyo.
So far, it’s not clear what the government intends to do with the countless bags of contaminated dirt. Some critics, including experts on radiation, call the government’s clean-up efforts “meaningless” and say that using high pressure hoses simply spreads the radiation.
Others contend that wiping down a building with a wet rag is pointless, particularly when the wind blows from the nearby forest which is still contaminated.
Iitate’s Mayor, Norio Kanno, has heard those arguments but insists they have to start somewhere.
“We have a responsibility to clean up and decontaminate this land. I can’t accept the idea that we give up. And it’s hard for some people to just start a new life elsewhere,” he says.
Yukio Nakano remains hopeful that he and his wife can return to their home one day.
“But we don’t know when that will happen. It’s hard to predict our future,” he says.s
The Environment Ministry says nearly 6,000 square kilometers of land across Japan have subsided by more than 2 centimeters in the last fiscal year.
The figure is about 1,000 times greater than in the previous fiscal year that ended March last year, and the largest-ever since records began in 1978.
Municipal organizations that extract underground water assess land subsidence on a regular basis.
About half the 30 tested areas in 20 prefectures were recorded as sinking more than 2 centimeters. This level is judged to have a potential impact on buildings’ stability.
The ministry says Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture sank deepest by 73.8 centimeters, followed by Ichikawa in Chiba by 30.9 centimeters. Tsukuba in Ibaraki sank by 15.2 centimeters.
Seven areas subsided by more than 10 centimeters. These lie in Tohoku, and in the Kanto region that includes Tokyo.
The ministry officials say the subsidence is attributable to last year’s March 11th earthquake. They have expressed concerns over the spread of subsidence and further damage to buildings.
Internet surfers can now take a virtual tour of the interiors of schools, city halls and other buildings in the Tohoku region that were damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
On Dec. 6, Google Inc. made the images from Iwate and Fukushima prefectures available on its Google’s Street View found in Google Maps.
Google Street View enables viewers to move forward or turn directions by clicking on the photos.
Google officials said the project was designed to record the horrific damage of March 11, 2011, for the historical record.
The images were photographed during a three-week period from Nov. 13. Those taken inside the former Rikuzentakata city office in Iwate Prefecture show rubble and automobiles littering the floors. Going upstairs, the viewer can see the remains of tsunami damage even on the fourth floor.
The images show the interiors of 34 buildings, for which Google was able to enlist the cooperation of local governments, from Kamaishi, Ofunato and Rikuzentakata in Iwate Prefecture, and Namie, Fukushima Prefecture. Twenty-nine of the galleries show the interiors of damaged buildings and five galleries are of buildings that have already been reconstructed from the damages on 3/11.
Demolition work has started on some of the buildings.
Google, which plans to keep records of ravaged buildings in Miyagi Prefecture as well, is calling for applications from local governments and building owners willing to take part.
The images are accessible both on Google Maps and on Google’s “Memories for the Future” website at (www.miraikioku.com/streetview/en/building)
Radioactive decontamination following last year’s nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant has not been completed at more than 80 percent of homes.
Japan’s environment ministry studied the progress of government-funded removal of radioactive substances being undertaken by 58 cities, towns and villages in 7 prefectures around Fukushima as of the end of August.
It says work had been completed at 69 percent of educational facilities such as schools and childcare centers that were scheduled for decontamination.
51 percent of roads had been treated.
But the ministry found that among nearly 100,000 homes slated for removal of radioactive substances, the process was finished at only about 17,000 or 18 percent of them.
As for parks and sports facilities, 38 percent of them had been decontaminated.