Japanese Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai Mourns Stricken City That 'Will Never Be the Same'

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The second phase will take much longer.

Crews must now wash down every street, the rooftops of every home, the walls of contaminated buildings. Excavators will be hauled in to dig out radiated top soil from parks and large fields.

The process is expected to take at least two years, but Yoshiaki Yokota, with Minamisoma's decontamination planning department, says crews can't begin the work until they secure a waste disposal site.

"We can't remove the waste without a place to store it," Yokota says, adding nobody wants nuclear waste in their neighborhood. "We've asked communities for their understanding, but getting support has been difficult."

For Sakurai, it means a delayed homecoming.

His house is within 12 miles of the plant and remains off limits. In the last year, he has only returned for three short visits to gather his belongings.

Later this month, the government will review the zoning of evacuation areas based on the latest radiation levels. Sakurai is hopeful evacuation orders for larger parts of Minamisoma will be lifted after that.

He is also aware that a return home won't necessarily mean reclaiming the life he had.

"Our lives have changed so much," he says. "I can't recall what it was like before March 11."

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