Boots on the Ground in Fukushima, Japan

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I had to come
see for myself. What does the worst radiation and natural disaster
in history look like? Chaos. Devastation. Cataclysm. Right?

Actually…
none of the above. Fukushima and the surrounding prefecture is as
quaint and picturesque as ever. Eight months on, there are hardly
any signs of a nuclear accident or major earthquake, at least on
the surface.

I was half-expecting
the town to have a permanent decontamination facility… with
radiation detectors as far as the eye can see, and legions of workers
in biohazard suits. After all, this town of nearly 300,000 is now
the world’s largest dirty bomb.

But riding
through the surrounding area and walking around the streets today,
Fukushima looks like any other small(ish) town. Schools, temples,
shops, and restaurants… everything is normal. In fact, it’s
almost eerily normal, like something out of an old Hitchcock film.

People here
have moved on and even learned to joke about the incident with an
untraditional sarcasm. At dinner this evening, my friend asked the
waiter “How’s the eggplant?” to which the waiter
replied with a dry smile, “Oh don’t worry, we source that
from another location now…”

The really
bizarre thing is that the radiation levels are still really high…
yet everyone is staying put. Tepco, the group that operates the
failed nuclear reactors nearby, has been publishing all sorts of
propaganda saying that radiation levels are falling. Nobody believes
it.

A group of
politicians staged a recent media stunt, drinking water that was
supposedly filled from a puddle outside Fukushima’s reactors,
and dining on local produce. Nobody seems to care.

The government
is telling them not to worry while private studies suggest otherwise.
A recent paper published by Norwegian atmospheric scientist Adreas
Stohl refutes a number of claims made by the Japanese government,
and it more than doubles the government’s estimate of how much
radiation was released in the accident.

And yet, nearly
everyone is still here. After the initial evacuation, people just
came back to town and picked up where they left off. They know the
government is lying to them. They know they’re in danger and
that their lives and livelihoods are at risk. But they’re staying
put.

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