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Japan-Update

Flight over Fukushima reveals cleanup gaps

Progress of recovery efforts governed by proximity to crippled nuclear plant

Green sheets cover bags of radioactive waste in the city of Tomioka in Fukushima Prefecture. (Photo by Shinya Sawai)

FUKUSHIMA, Japan -- Flying over the city of Tomioka in Fukushima Prefecture seven years ago revealed a landscape checkered with green farms. The quilted pattern remains visible today, but many of the farms have been replaced by rows of plastic sheets covering bags of radioactive soil.

A similar sight from the air can be seen in nearby Futaba, another city ravaged by the country's March 2011 earthquake and home to a temporary storage facility for radioactive waste.

Both stand as reminders of the disaster and signs of ongoing recovery efforts.

The evacuation order was lifted about a year ago for most of Tomioka and the neighboring city of Namie, but few residents have returned, the region's once tidy farms now choked with weeds.

And it is no wonder, with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant looming close-by, its tanks brimming with radioactive water and the 3km no-fly zone still in effect. The surrounding area seems to have been neglected in the cleanup.

Sea wall under construction in the city of Rikuzentakata in Iwate Prefecture (Photo by Shinya Sawai)

Elsewhere, however, there are signs that the region is returning to normal. In the coastal prefecture of Miyagi, just north of Fukushima, a number of houses and apartments have sprouted in the city of Higashimatsushima, part of efforts by local government to level hilly land into a residential zone.

The area has been touted as a symbol of post-disaster urban planning, with its rebuilt train station, supermarket and school. The fishing industry is also showing signs of life.

Further north in Iwate Prefecture, trucks can be seen working the site of a new stadium in the city of Kamaishi, host to the Rugby World Cup in September 2019.

Meanwhile, in the city of Rikuzentakata, construction of a huge sea wall is underway, replacing the grove of 70,000 pine trees that once formed a natural barrier to the sea and wind before being swept away by the tsunami.

Of the pines, only one still stands. Known as the "miracle pine," the towering tree, clearly visible from the air, now serves as a stark monument to the calamity that swept the land seven years ago.

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