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Being the First to Return Home After the Fukushima Disaster

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NARAHA, JAPAN - JUNE 01: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) In this aerial image, a Joban line train runs past a temporary storage site of the radiation contaiminated soil as the train operation restarted between Hirono and Tatsuno on June 1, 2014 in Naraha, Fukushima, Japan. The government plans to lift the mandatory evacuation order for Naraha, allowing residents to return to the town hit hard by the Fukushima nuclear disaster as early as spring 2015. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
In this aerial image, a Joban line train runs past a temporary storage site of the radiation-contaminated soil as the train operation restarted between Hirono and Tatsuno on June 1, 2014, in Naraha, Fukushima, Japan. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)

 

In 2011, the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl occurred in Fukushima, Japan. Five years later, the first town in the mandatory evacuation zone has officially reopened. Steve Featherstone visited Naraha shortly after the historic occasion to find a town still struggling to return to its pre-disaster state:

Hisao Yanai, a one-armed, chain-smoking, retired yakuza boss, stands alone behind the bar at Ippei, the restaurant he owns in the Japanese town of Naraha. There are no customers today. The streets outside the restaurant are deserted. Five years ago, on March 11, 2011, a powerful earthquake and tsunami triggered a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, located ten miles north of Naraha, forcing the evacuation of roughly 160,000 people. Half of them still cannot go home. Last fall, Naraha became the first town in Fukushima’s mandatory evacuation zone to reopen fully, allowing all 7,400 residents to return. Nothing like it had ever been attempted before. Could a town despoiled by radiation be summoned back to life?”

Read Featherstone’s full account in The New Republic. Look at Naraha’s slow return to normalcy below.

Masae Endo, 50, jogs the town where the evacuation order was lifted on September 5, 2015 in Naraha, Japan. The Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Plant can be seen in the distance. (The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
Masae Endo, 50, jogs the town where the evacuation order was lifted on September 5, 2015, in Naraha, Japan. The Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Plant can be seen in the distance. (The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
People light candles in pray for restoration as the evacuation order is to be lifted on September 4, 2015 in Naraha, Japan. (The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
People light candles in prayer for restoration as the evacuation order is to be lifted on September 4, 2015, in Naraha. (The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
A member of a fisheries cooperative association captures salmon in a traditional net on the Kidogawa river on October 18, 2015 in Naraha, Japan. It was the first time the fishing operations took place since the nuclear disaster at the nearby Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Authorities gave the green light to shipping Kidogawa river salmon after a survey conducted by the Fukushima prefectural government found that levels of radioactive materials detected in the fish were below the central government's safety standard of 100 becquerels per kilogram. (The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
A member of a fisheries cooperative association captures salmon in a traditional net on the Kidogawa river on October 18, 2015, in Naraha. It was the first time the fishing operations took place since the nuclear disaster at the nearby Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. (The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
Kazuyoshi Sato, 59, smiles as he returns his home at former no-go zone of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Naraha, Fukushima, Japan. (The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
Kazuyoshi Sato, 59, smiles as he returns his home at the former no-go zone of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Naraha. (The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
Shukan Sakanushi, head priest of the Dairakuin temple, performs a ceremony praying for the rebuilding of his hometown on September 5, 2015 in Naraha. (The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
Shukan Sakanushi, head priest of the Dairakuin temple, performs a ceremony praying for the rebuilding of his hometown on September 5, 2015, in Naraha. (The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
Kaneko Takahara, 66, sits on newly furbished tatami mat as she returns her home at former no-go zone of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Naraha. (The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
Kaneko Takahara, 66, sits on newly furbished tatami mat as she returns her home at former no-go zone of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Naraha. (The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
Toshimi Sato, 64, tidies up the garden of his house as the evacuation order was removed on September 5, 2015 in Naraha, Japan. (The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
Toshimi Sato, 64, tidies up the garden of his house as the evacuation order was removed on September 5, 2015, in Naraha. (The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
A returned family have dinner at their house as the evacuation order was lifted on September 5, 2015 in Naraha, Japan. (The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
A returned family have dinner at their house as the evacuation order was lifted on September 5, 2015, in Naraha. (The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
Blue tribute lights illuminate the sky as the evacuation order is to be lifted on September 4, 2015 in Naraha, Japan. (The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
Blue tribute lights illuminate the sky as the evacuation order is to be lifted on September 4, 2015, in Naraha. (The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)