Sparks from burning strips of paper swirled into the hot summer sky, carrying the names of the dead above a temple in Fukushima where thousands of sunflowers have been planted to help fight the omnipresent radiation.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant some 50 km away suffered a series of core meltdowns and explosions after the massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems, setting off the world’s worst nuclear accident in 25 years and forcing tens of thousands from their homes.
“It is as if an invisible snow had fallen on Fukushima and continued to fall, covering the area,” said Koyu Abe, chief monk at the Buddhist Joenji temple.
“This snow, which doesn’t melt, brought a long, long winter to Fukushima.”
Some 80,000 people were forced to evacuate from a vast swathe of land around the reactor as engineers battled radiation leaks, hydrogen explosions and overheating fuel rods — and have no idea when, if ever, they can return to homes that have been in their families for generations.
Worse still, radiation spread well outside the mandatory evacuation zone, nestling in “hot spots” and contaminating the ground in what remains a largely agricultural region.
Rice, still a significant staple, has not been planted in many areas. Others face stringent tests and potentially harmful shipping bans after radioactive cesium was found in rice straw.