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Life goes on despite uncertainty in Japan's disaster-hit Fukushima region

By Paula Hancocks, CNN
updated 12:38 AM EDT, Thu September 19, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Takashi Suzuki surfs in water near crippled Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan
  • Says he believes the risk is low but wouldn't allow his children to swim in the water
  • He lost his fishing business in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami and reactor meltdowns
  • Many people in the region are in limbo after being denied the chance to return home

Fukushima, Japan (CNN) -- Takashi Suzuki peels on his wet suit and looks out to sea. The waves are good and the water's not too crowded, with only a dozen or so other surfers riding the waves.

Suzuki has been surfing these waters since he was in his 20s -- he's now 59. Not even the fact this beach is only 31 miles (50 kilometers) south of the crippled Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant deters him.

"The radiation levels here are low," he says. "The data says so, so all I can do is believe it. But I won't let my children or grandchildren go in the water."

Tokyo Electric Power Company, the plant's operators, have been struggling to contain leaks from tanks holding toxic water, with dangerously high levels of radiation detected at the site. TEPCO also revealed that hundreds of tons of radioactive water seeps into the Pacific Ocean every day.

Fukushima: Was the response too slow?

On Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit the site less than two weeks after announcing that the government would be spending US$470 million to try to tackle the emergency.

Trying to decontaminate Fukushima
Expert: Fukushima freeze plan not ideal

Read more: Why Fukushima is worse than you think

The crisis began in 2011, when three of the plant's reactors suffered a meltdown after a devastating earthquake and tsunami.

But the world's worst nuclear disaster in 25 years has had a lasting impact -- it has evicted people from their homes and destroyed livelihoods, including Suzuki's fishing business. He doesn't believe he'll be able to fish these waters again in his lifetime. And now he's trapped here.

"Everything came to a halt and it is very bad for us, in a business sense and mentally. I have a family business but don't think I can ever go back to work.

"Lots of people want to leave this area. I want to leave as well but I can't because my life and money are all tied up here."

Half an hour's drive away is one of the temporary housing estates that sprung up after tens of thousands of people were evacuated from the vicinity of the plant.

Residents here know the word "temporary" is misleading. Many moved in more than two years ago and assume they will be here for years to come.

In an attempt to restore some normality to their lives, small gardens have been planted on the meter of rocky ground that surrounds the small plot and satellite dishes have been attached to the side of some of the modest wood cabins.

Yoshikatsu Matsumoto moved here with his wife shortly after the disaster. All of their money was invested in their dream retirement home -- a house he doubts they will ever live in again.

I think residents of towns close to the nuclear plant should migrate to a new place and start a new life.
Yoshikatsu Matsumoto, resident

He knows even if he and his wife can move back, his children and grandchildren are unlikely to even visit. He says that's no way to live.

"We need to draw a line at some point rather than decontaminating," he says. "I think residents of towns close to the nuclear plant should migrate to a new place and start a new life.

It's a highly sensitive issue that angers some residents and local politicians who refuse to give up hope of returning home. But Matsumoto is tired of waiting for his life to begin again.

Read more: Fukushima officials looks for outside help

"Everyone wants to go back but can't. We know the younger generation is increasingly deciding they are not going back. The older generation is thinking 'if their children don't go back why should they?' Now is the time to decide what to do," he says.

"This can never be home sweet home," he adds, referring to their temporary housing.

"If it is ever possible for us to go home, the government needs to do everything to make that happen and accept the help of the world. This accident killed the dreams of 150,000 people. They must do everything they can to try and salvage some dreams."

The government has been trying to decontaminate the outer parts of the original 12.4-mile (20-kilometer) exclusion zone. By the end of this fiscal year, the clean-up bill will have reached $1.5 billion.

It's painstaking work.

On any given day, an estimated 8,000 people work to clean up the area, carefully removing the top layer of soil and grass to try and remove as much absorbed radiation as possible.

Only on the outskirts of the evacuation area are residents permitted to return home for short periods. But the evacuation order remains at night, a sign that the government remains concerned about accumulative radiation exposure.

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