Beware of the Giant Hornet

Yamakiya, Japan – Forced Evacuation Zone

More than 2,300 decontamination workers are in Yamakiya tackling a portion of the largest radiological clean-up the world has ever seen. If you expect them to be armed with much more than rakes, think again.

It’s a shockingly unsophisticated effort.

“If you look at it from afar, it doesn’t make any sense what they’re doing. But when you get up close, then you can really understand,” says Hidekazu Ouchi, the son of Hiroshima survivor Saichi Ouchi, and the star of our film SON OF SAICHI.

Well-intentioned workers who are weary of being beat up by the press are raking leaves, weed-whacking overgrown rice paddies, hand-feeding small trees through wood chippers, hand-carrying branches from the woods, and climbing the mountainside to clear topsoil and brush.

We climbed up there with them today, too – and I can tell you it is risky, back-breaking, mind-numbingly slow work that involves being tethered to a tree while worrying about whether the Japanese giant hornet will strike. And there’s good reason to fear – it’s the largest hornet in the world and kills dozens of people in Japan every year, giving it the distinction of killing more people than any other animal here.

Branches contaminated with radiation are carried out of the forest in Yamakiya, a mandatory evacuation area.

The decontamination work is happening on the mountain’s first sixty-five feet. What if there’s contamination in the sixty-sixth foot? No one I talked to wants to answer that. Nor do they really feel like they should have to.

Yamakiya – specifically Hidekazu’s property – was one of nineteen test sites, and the effectiveness and efficiency of this decontamination technology was proven when initial soil scraping and leaf removal yielded a drop in radiation levels here. This success became a model for the massive decontamination effort that is now underway in twenty Fukushima communities.

Will it work? Will Hidekazu and his family be able to return home? Those are questions no one really can answer today. But new, brightly colored signs lining the roads want people to believe the answer is Yes: “Everyone do your best to come back with smiling faces,” one neon pink flag waves.

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