(Koyu Abe, a Zen priest, lights a candle at the main hall of his Joenji temple in Fukushima, northern Japan February 3, 2012. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao)

On the snowy fringes of Japan’s Fukushima city, now notorious as a byword for nuclear crisis, Zen monk Koyu Abe offers prayers for the souls of thousands left dead or missing after the earthquake and tsunami nearly one year ago.

But away from the ceremonial drums and the incense swirling around the Joenji temple altar, Abe has undertaken another task, no less harrowing — to search out radioactive “hot spots” and clean them up, storing irradiated earth on temple grounds.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, some 50 km (31 miles) away, suffered a series of explosions and meltdowns after the massive earthquake and tsunami last March 11, setting off the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986 and forcing 80,000 people from their homes.

Radiation, carried on winds and by snow, spread far beyond the 20 km (12 miles) evacuation zone around the plant, nestling in hot spots across the region and contaminating the ground in what remains a largely agricultural region.