Neon pink and yellow banners flutter along the roadsides, their gentle flapping breaking an eerie stillness. The houses here are shut tight, the streets are nearly deserted, the fields that once sprouted rice, tomatoes and cucumbers are fallow.
Shigeo Karimata dons a hard hat and a mask and prepares to get out of his car.
“Some people say, ‘Oh, it looks like a festival!’” says the avuncular 62-year-old Environment Ministry worker. “Then they see the writing on the flags: ‘Decontamination Work in Progress.’”
A colleague pulls out a radiation-measuring machine. “0.29 microsieverts,” he says, looking at the readout. “Not too high.”
Karimata is in charge of the work here in an evacuation zone about 12 miles north of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant—part of the most extensive, and expensive, nuclear cleanup ever attempted.
The scale and complexity of what Japan is trying to do in the aftermath of the 2011 meltdown at Fukushima is mind-boggling. Decontamination plans are being executed for 105 cities, towns and villages affected by the accident at Fukusima Dai-ichi, 140 miles northeast of Tokyo.
Many Japanese regard this massive undertaking as a solemn obligation to right a terrible wrong. Others, even some of the people directly affected, question whether it’s a quixotic waste of resources.