It was not long ago that the places listed in this text had been sought after destinations for many of the professionals involved in nuclear power generation. They lived with their families in the peaceful surroundings of those small towns and worked at the power plant that depicted itself as a pride of the nation, providing the country with electricity needed for sustaining the economy as well as life-style of citizens. In exchange of that valuable service provided by professionals, the parent company of the utility guaranteed well-being of its dedicated workers. Children attended nearby schools and during holiday sessions, made family trips to prime destinations within the country and outside.

A number of small businesses too were attracted to those places, allured by the prospect of earning profit by serving the needs of the relatively well-off communities. The end result had been the emergence of local groups of happy and content people dwelling around places near the power plant and working for greater prosperity of the nation. Names of some of those small towns all of a sudden became known to the people all over Japan and beyond, as some of those sleepy localities of the recent past, like Futaba, Naraha, Namie, Okuma, Soma and few others were in headline news soon after the great disaster. Some of the names still might sound familiar to many and also might ignite a nostalgic feeling to others. None of those living in any of the towns hardly thought about the possibility of their peaceful and secured life not only coming to a sudden standstill, but also posing serious danger to their livelihood or even to their survival.

As a result, the unthinkable twist of fate had befallen the local communities abruptly and without any prior hint, and all had to rush for safety living their homes, taking along only the bare necessities. They were instructed to start immediately the uncertain journey for evacuation centers and did not have time to gather precious mementoes they had preserved so carefully at homes. More than a decade after, some still remember how it all unfolded. One of them is a 27-year-old young professional Yuto Aoki, who is now working at Fukushima Research Institute of Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA). The institute is functioning in collaboration with Naraha Center for Remote Control Technology Development (NARREC), which was established in 2016 to test safety devices for the use of decommissioning of the crippled power plant. More than 11 years ago when the great disaster hit the region, Aoki was a high school student living with his parents in Naraha town. He remembers vividly what happened on that day.

"I was at home when the earthquake started shaking violently everything around. Soon after the first big hit, we were told to evacuate to a safer place and I moved with my family to a higher ground. From there I could see clearly the approaching second phase of the disaster, the big waves of tsunami advancing and engulfing our beloved locality. Waves washed away all that were standing in front - trees, cars, houses and so on; and soon our beloved locality was in ruin".

That first-hand experience was no doubt a shocking one for him, but not to the extent of what more was awaiting. As nuclear power plant accident that followed tsunami waves set the ground for unfolding of a bigger tragedy, families were ordered to evacuate and move to a temporary shelter. This was the starting point of a forced exile life within the country that compelled them to move from one place to another, the plight that continued for a number of years.

The nuclear disaster was also a turning point in the life of this young professional as it prompted him to think seriously about the future course of his life. Aoki came to the conclusion that what best he would be able to do in the future was to work in nuclear related fields. We can say his dream has come true as after completing university education he was hired by JAEA and has been assigned to the research institute located in Naraha town. As a result, Aoki is back to his hometown where from he was once forced to evacuate and now working to ensure that the risk of such accidents become less threatening to human life and the surrounding atmosphere.

NARREC is contributing actively to the decommissioning process of the crippled nuclear reactors through development and improvement of remote-control technology. As high level of radiation makes it impossible for humans to move anywhere closer to the reactors, remote control devices are turning vital for decommissioning work to progress. And to get an understanding of how the technology is working in reality, NARREC provided a rare opportunity of a 3D virtual tour to the inside of a reactor building to a group of Tokyo-based foreign journalists. The tour was fascinating as well as eye opening and displayed clearly where advanced technology is taking us to.

Like other 3D demonstrations, here too dark glasses were an essential component. However, unlike the rest, the NARREC virtual tour had a guide who had shown us the way and also demonstrated the extent of damages inside the building and reactor. We sometimes had to climb stairs and in time go down slopes. And by looking around we could see fallen or broken pipes in some places and cracks in the metallic plates elsewhere. And all along the way, radiation count displayed at the top of the screen had shown how dangerous it was at the place that we had been passing through.

Nobuhisa Nosaki of Project Engineering Management Section of NARREC acted as a guide for the virtual tour. As he was standing in front wearing special dark glasses with antennas fixed in two sides, this somehow gave the impression of going through a space odyssey along the galaxy. In places he made a brief stoppage to explain where inside the reactor we exactly had been and how bad were the damages. We even plunged under water, which were highly contaminated. And as we eventually re-emerged from inside the reactor building, the experience turned out to be something completely new and beyond our expectation.

This episode of our virtual trip inside the reactor building gave clear evidence of how the decommissioning work is progressing. The most dangerous parts of the work are being carried out by specially made robots that are controlled remotely. Video footages sent by those robots from the reactor buildings and also from inside the reactors are helping researchers to fathom the scale of devastation, as well as the state of molten fuels accumulated in reactor cores. The work is not an easy one and it'll take decades for decommissioning to be completed.

Meanwhile, despite new facilities being built in formerly restricted zones around the crippled power plant, they are still not convincing enough for evacuees to think seriously about returning to the places they once were forced to abandon. Namie town provides a typical example of this dilemma being faced by families that once were living a peaceful life around the coastal region of Fukushima adjacent to the nuclear power plant. Population of Namie was roughly 21,000 before the disaster. Evacuation order for the town was lifted in March 2017 and more than 5 years since than population now stands merely at 1,888.

No wonder the lament of Serikawa Noriko has been echoed beautifully in the following poetic expression that she had composed after visiting Futaba town when evacuation order was lifted. She was in Futaba before the tragic incident and compared the two phases with the metaphor of moon reflected on the sea and this poetic description is now being shown in the video display at the newly built Disaster Memorial Museum located in Futaba:

The sea hasn't changed

The sea hasn't changed

But it's a little painful

To look at the sea of Futaba

With the moon in it.

(Tokyo, October 26, 2022)

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