You may have heard the news that Fukushima is being ravaged by radioactive wild boars. No, it is not. The boars are not ‘radioactive,’ they would be irradiated. The difference between the two words is not mere pedantry, they describe very different phenomena. I talked about this in my last reminiscence post for the fifth anniversary of 3/11. Radioactive means the material is unstable and throwing it’s own particles around. Irradiated means the organism or object has absorbed radioactive material, and could potentially become toxic. Buried under the alarmist headlines is a very real, very important story about nature and some of the possible long term consequences of 3/11 that have gone largely unremarked on until now. There really are animals running wild in the parts of Fukushima that were evacuated and are still devoid of humans. Japan has always had a large wild boar population, so it is no surprise that they turn up in numbers inside the Fukushima exclusion zone.
Whenever humans leave, nature takes over. In Ukraine, we have already seen nature takeover the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Animals came back and plants overgrew everything. I think that any talk of former residents moving back into the Chernobyl exclusion zone is gone, if there was any. Sometimes I hear people say it would be nice to turn the exclusion zone into a national park. I have never been to Ukraine, but I have seen photographs and films of the area around Chernobyl, and it is quite eerie. For my part, I can hardly believe the area was only abandoned 30 years ago. Now the same process is occurring in Fukushima, and it is a potential problem. The refugees from the exclusion zone still scattered around Japan would like to go back. But what can they go back to? This goes back to the boars. Wild boars are opportunists. They can and will eat almost anything, just like domestic pigs. The boars can breed safely in the exclusion zone, with no predators, except for the occasional black bear, which are very, very rare on Honshu.
With a safe space to breed, the boars are already a bigger problem outside the exclusion zone than they were before the accident. Authorities can try to cull the herd, but so long as boars are free to roam in the exclusion zone or anywhere, the boar problem will be unsolvable. In theory, the government of Japan or Fukushima could send hunters into the exclusion briefly to conduct a quick cull, but that would not work either. Besides, boars are hardly the only animals that could find sanctuary in the exclusion zone. Japan also has deer, monkeys, badgers and even raccoons. Any animal that can tolerate the radiation even a little has already taken advantage of the human vacuum in Fukushima. Much of Fukushima is rural, and pest animals find farmland most inviting. There is plenty of food and fewer humans to chase the pests away.
Besides the animals, every other element of nature will take its toll on abandoned buildings, roads, pipes and rail. If the exclusion zone is ever declared safe, and people have the opportunity to live there again, they will likely need to build a whole new infrastructure. How much that costs depends on how many people want to move back, and it begs the question, who pays for it all? Perhaps the best solution is to just leave the land to the boars.