Is the Fukushima cleanup over?

Written by By Staff Writer In January 2011, Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was severely damaged by an earthquake and tsunami, leading to the world’s worst nuclear accident in 25 years. With no…

Is the Fukushima cleanup over?

Written by By Staff Writer

In January 2011, Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was severely damaged by an earthquake and tsunami, leading to the world’s worst nuclear accident in 25 years.

With no natural nuclear radiation escaping from the plant, zoo animals have always seemed a more likely cause of radiation poisoning, than humans living nearby. But just a year after the disaster, wild animals are once again thriving in the Fukushima vicinity.

Photographer Jennifer Maia visited Fukushima a year after the March 2011 disaster to chronicle the progress of the animal welfare. Credit: Jennifer Maia

On February 5, 2011, Japan’s Meteorological Agency issued an alert for an 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that would smash Japan’s eastern seaboard.

Days later, the 11.0 magnitude quake, tsunami and nuclear disaster struck, claiming approximately 10,000 lives.

In the six months between February and July 2011, the magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami caused mass disruption and damage across large swathes of Japanese society, including to the country’s nuclear power plant system.

The 2011 nuclear disaster in Japan left 20,000 people with radiation-related illnesses. Credit: NATASHA VAN WAARDELEA/HUFFINGTON POST WORLD-HIT

On the morning of March 11, 2011, the power failure forced reactor cooling functions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to shut down, causing serious radiation leaks into the atmosphere.

This radioactive accident led to the largest atomic disaster in 25 years. The disaster left 20,000 people with radiation-related illnesses — known as cesium poisoning — and resulted in the government declaring that areas within 20 kilometers of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant were no longer safe for people to reside.

It took another two years for the Fukushima Daiichi plant to be re-energized, and released what some scientists described as the worst case scenario: trace amounts of radiation were found up to a mile from the plant.

A decade ago, the nuclear waste dump in the town of Tujuho was leaking pollution into the local waterways. Today it’s a tourist site. Credit: Jennifer Maia

Since 2010, however, local and national authorities have progressively taken steps to mitigate the health impacts of the Fukushima disaster, like encouraging people to live and work in the capital, Tokyo, and removing radiation monitoring equipment and other equipment that was still operating at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Two years after the disaster, many residents of Fukushima had been given the opportunity to move to Tokyo’s financial district to work, increasing the number of people in the city by hundreds of thousands.

In April 2014, the government announced its road map to decontaminate and return land to a level safe for human habitation, with 20% of land free of contaminated substances by 2020. The road map’s aim is to bring the area to “safe” levels by 2030.

In 2012, nature was gaining a foothold in a forest damaged by the 2011 disaster. Credit: Jennifer Maia

Plants recovered from the wreckage of the nuclear plant and helped conserve the environment, including more than 120 species of rare wild trees. An endangered forest species has been spotted in the Fukushima town of Tachikawa, which was previously damaged by nuclear contamination in the March 2011 accident. A 2000-year-old oak was recently discovered in the nursery built to replant as well as preserve the tree species following the 2011 disaster.

Images like these — taken by award-winning nature photographer Jennifer Maia — are helping to reflect the resilience of the animals in the wake of the disaster.

“Fukushima is a small town in Fukushima Prefecture,” Maia said in a statement. “However, its rebirth means more to Japan and the world than to its inhabitants. Of course, the people affected must make the transition back into society, but they are also building a new habitat to thrive here.”

A former nuclear waste dump is now a flower farm. And just this year, a Pokémon Go-like game put community spirit to the test. Credit: Jennifer Maia

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), however, the areas affected by the Fukushima accident are still considered high-risk to humans and animals alike, with the removal of contaminated debris still incomplete in areas around the plant.

“This 15-year process to bring public safety and health back to normal is far from over,” the IAEA said in a statement.

“The IAEA and the government will continue to support and provide technical support to local authorities, who are continuing to enforce current safety measures.”

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