The trip through Fukushima was both a heartbreaker and a ray of hope. The destruction caused by the earthquake, tsunami waves, and nuclear disaster was daunting and the effect on the people who lived their and are still affected by this event is saddening. On a brighter side though, many actions have been taken by many groups focusing in on the sustainable development and recovery of the area in many different parts of Fukushima, hoping to make Fukushima an even more sustainable, healthy, and beautiful city then it once was.
While at Fukushima, we got the chance to observe many different things. First, we took a trip to the Tokyo Electrical Power Company (TEPCO) Decommissioning Archive Center to learn more about the disaster in Fukushima on March 11, 2011. There, they showed us videos and pictures giving us a background on the overview of what happened that day with the nuclear reactor and the amount of destruction to the surrounding area caused due to the explosions, and also the earthquake and tsunami beforehand. When we reached the exclusion zone, we came to learn that because of the nuclear explosion leaking harmful chemicals into the surrounding environment, much of the soil, water, and plant life was permanently damaged. With the soil in particular, it was mixed in with these foreign chemicals making it no longer able to sustain plant life, specifically locally grown crops. As this soil could not be fixed in its present state, the choice made was to completely remove the existing soil altogether and replace it with new soil from various places. Currently, there are about (probably more than) 19 million bags of contaminated soil across the exclusion zone. We also saw abandoned houses, nursing homes, fishing shops, and elementary schools that had either been abandoned or badly damaged since the catastrophe. It should be noted that while the nuclear explosion affected the environmental health of the area, the 10 and 15-meter-high tsunamis brought much of the physical devastation and damage to the community, sweeping away entire towns and most buildings within the coastal area near Fukushima. The sites we saw and the stories told to us seemed unimaginable, and the saddest part is that they were all true.
In relation to the resistance and recovery of the Fukushima area now, the residents and workers here are a tough and determined group to say the least. Continuous work is being done on the reactors to safely and efficiently clean up the area to successfully decommit the reactors from action. This work includes searching and removing chemical and physical debris from the site to limit harm to anyone, flushing out any reactive nuclear waste from the area to prevent any further combustion or accidents, and carefully removing the structures as harmful materials are removed to ensure a full clean-up of the zone. Other efforts like digging fields to hold the many bags of contaminated soil, creating solar panel fields across kilometers of land, and making more sustainable living conditions in houses, energy distribution, and natural resource convenience and efficiency are all ways the people of Fukushima are showing everyone that they will not put down by this disaster, and rather come back better and work harder to make Fukushima even better, and their work and attitudes are truly inspiring to an aspiring environmental engineer like myself.
On March 11, 2011, tragedy fell upon the community of Fukushima and still leaves its mark on the area and will continue to for possibly the next 30 plus years according to sustainability and clean-up officials we talked to on site. But this loss and displacement has not discouraged the people of Fukushima, as they are aiming to make the area completely sustainable, running on renewable energy, and even better and healthier than its past city. With this goal attained, hopefully this new development can welcome the refugees of the disaster back to their home where they can flourish and help in the goal of a healthy, sustainable Fukushima.