Fukushima Prefecture — As if mentally preparing to move back to areas deserted six years ago weren’t daunting enough, residents returning to four towns inside the 12-mile exclusion zone face the prospect of being attacked by radioactive wild boars.
In the time since a massive earthquake triggered a colossal tsunami that smashed into the Japanese coast on March 11, 2011 — crippling the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and triggering meltdowns in three reactors — wild boars have scavenged the evacuated exclusion zone, plundered abandoned crops, feasted on dead livestock left to rot in pens, and have even occasionally attacked humans.
And while wild boars do roam in northern Japan — where the meat is considered a delicacy — the animals who took over when people abruptly left have absorbed so much radioactivity, they present a new danger.
“According to tests conducted by the Japanese government, some of the boars have shown levels of radioactive element cesium-137 that are 300 times higher than safety standards,” the New York Times reports.
With the Japanese government preparing to allow residents of four towns to return for the first time since 2011, local hunters have begun clearing the aggressive animals to make the area safe.
“It is not really clear now which is the master of the town, people or wild boars,” Tamotsu Baba, mayor of the coastal town of Namie, told the Mirror.
“If we don’t get rid of them and turn this into a human-led town, the situation will get even wilder and uninhabitable.”
Residents of Namie — situated just 2.5 miles from the still-unfolding nuclear disaster at Fukushima — will likely return home at the end of March.
“The Japanese government has been sending in teams to ‘cull’ the boars, which has also led the radioactive animals to be filmed and photographed for the first time. According to Baba, the need to eliminate the boars is urgent: ‘If we don’t get rid of them and turn this into a human-led town, the situation will get even wilder and uninhabitable.’ The ‘culling’ teams have been using cage traps and air rifles to reduce the boar population in Namie and three surrounding towns, including Tomioka where 800 boars have already been killed. Hundreds more boars have been captured since the program began and population control efforts are expected to continue well after residents return.”
But radioactive boars attacking people isn’t the only concern for officials — many animals have settled into an untold number of the abandoned houses, and have lost all fear of humans. Potential friendly interaction between humans and the toxically radioactive animals presents additional urgency for hunters culling the beasts.
But for people to return to the area will take effort beyond dealing with the wild boar population explosion. Packs of dogs and colonies of cats roam freely. “Rat colonies have overrun abandoned supermarkets,” notes the Times. “Farmland, transformed into grassland, has become a perfect habitat for wild boars and foxes. Boars have caused about $854,000 in damage to agriculture in Fukushima prefecture, reported the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri.”
Hunter Shoichiro Sakamoto, who leads a team of 13 hunters capturing and killing the contaminated boars, told the Mirror,
“After people left, they began coming down from the mountains and now they are not going back.
“They found a place that was comfortable. There was plenty of food and no one to come after them.”
With the culling ongoing, it’s unclear to officials whether getting rid of the ‘Frankenboars’ will convince residents to return to nuclear ghost towns they once called home — but hunters haven’t slowed their efforts.
“The authorities in the town of Tomioka say they have killed 800 so far,” the Times noted, “but officials there say that is not enough, according to the Japanese news media. The latest statistics show that in the three years since 2014, the number of boars killed in hunts has grown to 13,000 from 3,000.”
Tomorrow marks the six-year anniversary of the Fukushima calamity, the worst nuclear disaster in history next to the 1986 explosion and meltdown at Chernobyl in Ukraine — a catastrophe whose exclusion zone likely will never be lifted, and which has seen a similar radioactive wildlife population explosion as in Japan.
Despite such horrific consequences and danger to human and animal life, the world continues to flirt with nuclear power as a legitimately viable alternative to fossil fuels, despite astonishing advances in wind and solar energy.
While the planet shouldn’t be expected to make such a jarring shift in energy sourcing overnight, the benefits to the environment and job creation in renewables makes the switch worthwhile — even if it’s slow to take hold.