The complex known here as J-Village was once Japan’s largest soccer training facility. A statue in the building’s foyer depicts three soccer players battling for a ball. The logo of the Tepco Mareeze, a women’s soccer team that was disbanded in 2011, still is part of the decor. The sliding glass doors that open automatically when visitors approach are emblazoned with an image of soccer players.
But no one plays soccer here anymore. Instead, J-Village has become the command center in the effort to clean up the nuclear catastrophe that began when a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the coast of Honshu, Japan, at 2:46 p.m. on March 11, 2011, sending a 45-foot wall of water over the 19-foot protective seawall at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and triggering the worst nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine exploded in 1986.
The resulting nightmare continues three years later. It may take decades to get it fully under control.
Today, J-Village’s locker rooms serve decontamination workers, not athletes. Its meeting rooms, where coaches and trainers used to work with rising stars, are reserved now for stern men in uniforms who warn visitors about the danger of exposure to heightened radiation levels.
Almost no one comes here, except those directly involved in the cleanup, and the outsiders who do are given protective coveralls to wear and warned about the ongoing dangers of radiation, measured in the individual sensors each is given. On a bus trip organized by Tokyo Electric Power Co., the owner of the crippled nuclear plant, each mile closer to the disaster makes it clear there are many years to go in this crisis.