Today marks the second anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster that occurred after a magnitude-9 earthquake triggered tsunamis that rattled much of northeast Japan.

Two years later, about one-third of Fukushima is still uninhabitable. In Minami-Soma, a city within Fukushima prefecture, residents still are grappling with the disaster’s aftermath.

“To put it simply, it destroyed our life,” Katsunobu Sakurai, mayor of Minami-Soma, said in an I Files report. “The basic unit, the family, was lost. The region was lost, and then the countryside was lost.”

Tokyo-based businessman Eiju Hangai, who spent 32 years working for TEPCO, explains the complex relationship with the utility company that operated the nuclear power plant: “My grandfather took me to the construction site of the Fukushima Daiichi Reactor 1. This was where Japan’s energy was going to be made with nuclear power for the first time. … That left a powerful impression on me. So when I was graduating college, I wanted to work for TEPCO. It was the company supporting the energy needs of Tokyo and of Japan, and the strong belief that the power plant I saw would no doubt help the region.”

Since then, Minami-Soma has turned to solar energy, in partnership with businesses like Toshiba, in a region whose past was rooted in faith in nuclear power.

Watch the residents of Minami-Soma leave the past behind as they look to a better future:

YouTube video

Directed, produced, shot and edited by Emily Taguchi
Field produced by Hiroko Aihara
Supported by a grant from the Social Science Research Council

The Fukushima meltdown happened during a nuclear renaissance in the United States. Al Jazeera English, in collaboration with the Center for Investigative Reporting, has reported that billions of dollars in federal funding has been allocated to develop nuclear capacity. In fact, last year, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved plans to construct the first new nuclear reactors in more than three decades – and most of the existing reactors in the U.S. are being granted extensions, despite a 40-year operating license.

Even as the debate over nuclear power resurfaces, the future of existing and aging nuclear power plants overseen by the commission remains up in the air:

YouTube video

Produced by Joe Rubin and Serene Fang and Al Jazeera English

For more on nuclear power, visit CIR’s investigation, Nuclear Zone. For more of the best investigative news videos, subscribe to The I Files

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Kelly Chen is a news engagement specialist at The Center for Investigative Reporting. She manages the day-to-day social media strategies and online engagement for CIR. In addition, she works to break down complex issues and ideas and create content for CIR's online communities. Kelly also works to increase engagement on and on other online platforms. Previously, she produced discussion segments for PBS NewsHour and oversaw social media and engagement efforts for the American Graduate project, a public media initiative on the high school dropout crisis. She's also worked at Southern California Public Radio and National Geographic TV. A native of Los Angeles, she studied international relations and English at UC Davis.