Radiation readings in Odaka are well below anything that could be considered a health risk, but people are still not coming back. Indeed, the long shadow cast by Fukushima has extended over a much wider area than any scientific assessment of radiological hazard would argue is necessary. In Minamisoma, 20km north of the stricken reactor, a community centre above the town is decked out for indoor play because no one wants to let their children venture out of doors. The parents refuse to believe that radiation readings are low enough – barely above normal background, on my dosimeter – that their children's health would be improved by letting them play outside in the fresh air. Watching the kids cooped up in a big wooden hall, I could only conclude that unnecessary fear of radiation is just as much a hazard as the real thing.
On a wider scale still, unnecessary fear of radiation now presents a serious hazard to the world's climate. Japan's precipitous exit from nuclear power generation – the day I arrived in Tokyo was the first non-nuclear day in Japan for 42 years – has pushed the country's fossil fuel demand through the roof, with imports of oil and gas up by more than 100% since last year, their ballooning cost driving a record trade deficit of $32bn. As carbon emissions rise in lockstep, Japan's leaders are now backing off from their international climate change commitments, which the country has no chance of meeting. Given that wind, solar and geothermal account for less than 1% of Japan's electricity generation, the country will be massively dependent on fossil fuels for decades to come if the reactors stay switched off. The only alternative is blackout.