The startling view from Fukushima

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Image from The New York Times.

Six years after the tsunami that destroyed it, the Fukushima nuclear reactor is still throwing off huge amounts of radiation. And yet people who lived nearby may soon return to their homes and businesses.

The UK Independent reported that radiation levels are still so high at the plant that robots are burning out far more quickly than imagined:

The latest attempt to harvest data on Fukushima failed after a robot designed by Toshiba to withstand high radiation levels died five times faster than expected.

The robot was supposed to be able to cope with 73 sieverts of radiation, but the radiation level inside the reactor was recently recorded at 530 sieverts.

A single dose of one sievert is enough to cause radiation sickness and nausea; 5 sieverts would kill half those exposed to it within a month, and a single dose of 10 sieverts would prove fatal within weeks.

The latest cost estimate of the disaster, incidentally, is 20 trillion yen — about $175 billion. The damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, in contrast, was estimated at $108 billion — and it was the costliest hurricane in U.S. history.

(Also, check out these flowers. The world of Margaret Atwood may be on its way.)

However, that hasn’t stopped some people from moving back to the towns nearby — towns that were evacuated when the tsunami hit. The New York Times has a photo essay of what some of them look like: deserted stretches of road, decaying buildings, gray and empty, with desks and clothes and gravestones as they were left. It’s haunting.

People are to be let back in next month, though many will never return. But one man says he wants to live his life in the place he’d spent most of it.

Ichiro Tagawa, 77, moved back to Namie on a special permit in September and reopened the bicycle repair shop that has been in his family for 80 years. “I am so old I don’t really care about the radiation levels,” he said, “and in fact it is very low.”

Still, he admits, “we are living in a very lonely town.”

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