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Monk tackles Fukushima nuke "hotspots"

Here at a temple in the Fukushima winter, Zen monk Koyu Abe is praying for the souls of the dead. Thousands died in last year's earthquake and tsunami. But left behind, here just 30 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, is one invisible demon prayers can't beat. (SOUNDBITE) (Japanese) HEAD MONK AT JOENJI ZEN BUDDHIST TEMPLE, KOYU ABE, SAYING: "The damage here in Fukushima is different from the destruction caused by the tsunami. You can't see it. Nothing looks as if it's changed, but really radiation is floating through the area. So it's hard for those hit by the tsunami; but in a slightly different sense, it's hard to live here too." Robes off and mask on, Abe is hunting for hotspots on the streets of Fukushima with a team of volunteers. This is a city the government considers safe, outside its 12-mile evacuation zone. But Geiger counters here show radiation levels higher than some tests close to the nuclear plant. Two hours near this would be equivalent to a full body X-Ray. One volunteer is Masataka Aoki. He's spent four decades at Hitachi designing nuclear plants. (SOUNDBITE) (Japanese) MASATAKA AOKI, 65-YEAR-OLD NUCLEAR PLANT ENGINEER FOR HITACHI AND VOLUNTEER IN THE CLEAN-UP PROJECT, SAYING: "The thing I'd come to believe was good, useful to society, turned out to be useless and cause everyone trouble. So for me, I feel a deep sense of remorse." But with little help from the authorities, Abe's temple is now taking on a nuclear burden. Radioactive soil Abe says nobody else will take is packed into these containers and stored in the temple grounds. (SOUNDBITE) (Japanese) HEAD MONK AT JOENJI ZEN BUDDHIST TEMPLE, KOYU ABE, SAYING: "Our mission at the temple is to make the happy things even happier and, as much as we can, shoulder those that cause sorrow -- as far as possible allowing people to escape their grief. That's the essence of our work. So to that end no effort is too much, be it our time or anything else." Here the snow may still be falling. But after this nuclear winter, Abe hopes for a radiation-free spring. Ruairidh Villar, in Fukushima for Reuters.

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