by Julian Ryall, The Telegraph, July 6, 2018
Authorities in Fukushima are installing warning signs in English telling thrill-seeking tourists not to stop their cars or pose for selfies in areas that still have dangerously high levels of radiation.
Seven years after the disaster at the prefecture's nuclear plant, the government’s nuclear emergency response office has placed 26 signs along a 45-mile stretch of National Road 114 and a number of smaller roads in areas designated as “difficult-to-return” for local residents, the Asahi newspaper reported.
One road through the town of Namie was only reopened in September and is primarily used by construction vehicles and lorries removing contaminated waste and debris to landfill sites.
Motorists are able to access the roads, but authorities have installed signs after tourists were spotted getting out of their cars to take photos. Pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists are still banned from entering the restricted zone.
The signs read “No Entry!” for motorcycles, mopeds, light vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians, while others warn of “High-dose radiation area” and advise “Please pass through as quickly as possible”.
Fukushima police said they were forced to appeal to the government for help because of the rising number of incidents involving tourists who were unaware that getting out of a vehicle transiting the zone is still prohibited.
The areas that still have levels of radiation that would be harmful to human health lie to the north-west of the Fukushima nuclear plant and were under the plume of radioactivity released when a series of tsunami destroyed the cooling systems of four reactors in March 2011.
Local residents are permitted to return to their homes for brief, closely supervised visits, but the government admits that despite efforts to decontaminate the region, it will be many years before they are able to return on a permanent basis.
Long considered one of Japan’s most unspoilt and beautiful prefectures, Fukushima is today trying to rebuild a reputation among foreign and domestic tourists. A number of other travel firms are now offering tours to some of the towns most severely damaged as a result of the magnitude-9.1 earthquake, the tsunami it triggered and the nuclear disaster.