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June 24, 2017

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Three years later, still a long road ahead for Fukushima

FUKUSHIMA Dai-ichi, Japan--In complete darkness, a group of men tried everything they could to save the Fukushima nuclear plant from catastrophe. Their struggle was in vain.

Three years later, the control room at the site of the worst atomic crisis in a generation — which forced a hard look at Japan's energy policy — sits as a grim time capsule.

Helmets, masks, several pairs of gloves and overalls remain as reporters are taken on a tour of the inner sanctum, a first since the accident.

Notes are scribbled awkwardly on walls in rooms with levers, dials, and buttons, reminders of March 11, 2011, when a towering wall of water plunged the site into darkness and sent reactors into meltdown.

What was happening inside the reactor core was unknown to the workers who fought hour after hour before they were forced to abandon part of the doomed site.

Not far away in the destroyed reactors, radioactivity is so strong that it remains a no-go area.

"The guys that were working here are not at the plant anymore — they got too much radiation," said Kenichiro Matsui, an official at Fukushima operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO).

Workers now at the site have yet to even start dismantling the crippled reactors, a process not expected to begin for another six years, part of a decommissioning process expected to stretch over decades.

Several thousand employees are locked in a daily — and dangerous — scramble under harsh conditions to keep the site as safe as possible, making a myriad of repairs and building tanks for the vast amounts of contaminated water.

The company poured thousands of tons of water onto runaway reactors to keep them cool, and continues to douse them, but has to store and clean that water in a growing number of temporary tanks at the site.

TEPCO has warned it is running out of storage space and many experts believe the water will eventually have to be dumped into the sea after being scoured of its most harmful contaminants.

Local fishermen, neighboring countries and environmental groups all oppose the idea.

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