Odaka, Ravaged by Fukushima's Nuclear Disaster, Sees Hope in Drone Food Delivery

The nuclear disaster in Fukushima in 2011 was the worst in history since Chernobyl. Cities were evacuated. Now, people are returning home, but have little access to food. A drone delivery service in Odaka wants to change that.

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One of the most environmentally-detrimental moments in world history happened in 2011, not to mention a horrific loss of life. Fukushima's nuclear meltdown was the worst of its kind since Chernobyl in 1986, and it's one we're still dealing with to this day. The town of Odaka in the Minamisoma area of Japan was devastated by the event, and even now—six years later—general infrastructure and things we take for granted, like access to stores, is difficult. Fortunately, a convenience store franchise named Lawson partnered up with an e-commerce company, Rakuten, to launch a drone food delivery service for Odaka's large elderly population.

According to the BBC, the Minamisoma district is within a 10-mile radius of Fukushima's Daiichi Power Station, the ground zero of the disaster initiated by an earthquake and subsequent tsunami (and, arguably, by building your nuclear power plant so close to a fault-line). For those too young to recall, the footage coming out of Japan was heartbreaking. About 1,000 elderly workers volunteered to go back in, to resolve the situation, essentially sacrificing themselves for the greater good. Whole cities were swept away. Fortunately, the news coming out of one of those cities today is that empathy met technology, and drones are delivering food to those in need.

In the wake of this disaster, there was a mandatory evacuation, due to intense, serious fears of radiation spreading through the area. It was only last October that those mandatory rules were lifted, and citizens could return home. Those coming back to Odaka, though, aren’t finding everything as it was. A spokesperson for Lawson, Ken Mochimaru, told the BBC that “The town is starting to regain its former liveliness as its residents continue to return home. However, improving the shopping environment for daily necessities, food, and other products represents a high-priority challenge.”

According to the BBC, Lawson and Rakuten’s drone delivery service is running trials for the next six months, and works by sending food from a nearby Lawson store to a mobile food truck that operates by a community center in town. Customers can order hot meals, such as fried chicken, as well as household items. The UAV in question can carry a payload of up to four pounds. 

Reportedly, Lawson operates these mobile vans across the country, especially in rural regions where standard access is an issue and to the more elderly segment of the population. More than 25 percent of Japan is older than 65, and that percentage is expected to increase dramatically in the next 20 years, while the total population of the country decreases.