On March 11, 2011, a powerful earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan triggered the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, in 1986. Just like in the Soviet Union, thousands of people were evacuated around the disaster zone. But unlike the Soviet authorities, the Japanese government has worked hard to make the stricken area once again fit for human habitation. Authorities are now trying to convince the 80,000 former residents of the exclusion zone to return home.
Having worked as correspondents in Japan since the Fukushima disaster, we have closely followed the progress of the "red zone" around the site of the stricken nuclear power plant. At first, vegetation took over the deserted site. But gradually, the area became filled with excavators and workers, tasked with decontaminating the no man's land. The world’s third-largest economy, Japan has spared no expense to retake this territory lost to radioactivity. And to a certain extent, it has succeeded, since half of the forbidden zone has now reopened.
But reopening these cities is not sufficient to convince former residents, who were evacuated overnight back in 2011, to come back. On average, only 10 percent of the "nuclear refugees" have so far returned to live in the evacuated zone. On the other hand, a new population has arrived: decontamination professionals, construction workers and nuclear engineers. They settle in new buildings or in the former homes of nuclear refugees, who have been only too happy to sell their old houses. As mind-boggling as it may seem, one local real estate agent told us that property prices were soaring in the former exclusion zone.