NAMIE, FUKUSHIMA PREF. - Beyond radiation risks, an unexpected nuisance looms for people returning to towns vacated after the Fukushima nuclear crisis six years ago — wild boars.
Hundreds of animals, which have been known to attack people when enraged, descended from surrounding hills and forests into towns left deserted after the March 2011 disaster.
Now they roam the empty streets and overgrown backyards of the deserted seaside town of Namie, foraging for food.
“It is not really clear now which is the master of the town, people or wild boars,” said Tamotsu Baba, mayor of the town, which has been partially cleared for people to return home freely at the end of the month.
“If we don’t get rid of them and turn this into a human-led town, the situation will get even wilder and uninhabitable.”
At the end of March, evacuation orders are set to be lifted for parts of Namie, located just 4 km (2.5 miles) from the wrecked Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Three other towns will also see the orders lifted.
Residents fled to escape radiation spewed by the plant, whose reactors went into meltdown after it was struck by tsunami following the monster magnitude-9 earthquake on March 11, 2011.
In the nearby town of Tomioka, hunter Shoichiro Sakamoto leads a team of 13 assigned to catch and kill the wild boars with rifles. Twice a week, they set about 30 cage traps, using rice flour as bait.
“After people left, they began coming down from the mountains and now they are not going back,” he said. “They found a place that was comfortable. There was plenty of food and no one to come after them.”
Since last April, the squad has captured about 300 of the animals, and intends to keep up its work even after the evacuation orders are scrapped, Sakamoto said.
More than half of Namie’s 21,500 former residents have decided not to return, however, a government survey showed last year, citing concerns over radiation and the safety of the nuclear plant, which is slowly being decommissioned.
But at town meetings earlier this year to prepare for the homecoming, residents voiced worries about the boars.
“I’m sure officials at all levels are giving some thought to this,” said Hidezo Sato, a former seed merchant in Namie. “Something must be done.”