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.

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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.

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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.