The roads are blocked 20km from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
Photo: Yuko Enomoto
The tsunami devastated Soma City harbour.
Children are at higher risk of becoming contaminated by the radioactive materials.
Many volunteers, aid organisations and construction companies avoid Fukushima Prefecture in favour of more Northern areas which explains why the recovering efforts are much slower here.
At the border of the exclusion zone; young policemen stand watch in full security equipment.
Photos: Elin Lindqvist
Eleven weeks after the earthquake on March 11th, the situation in North-eastern Japan is still very serious. Scientists have now measured up to a hundred times the normal amount of radioactive materials on the seafloor 30 km off shore.
When we return to North-eastern Japan and travel around Fukushima Prefecture, the Japanese government has drawn up different zones depending upon the degree of radioactive materials that have been measured. This border is drawn through communities, rice fields and industrial zones.
The area 10km around the nuclear plant is completely closed off and people who lived inside the zone between 10km and 20km away from the plant have had to evacuate from their homes. Since Wednesday last week they have obtained the authorization to apply for short home visits. They have two hours to retrieve valuables, dressed in full safety equipment, masks and plastic protection around their footwear.
These clothes are thrown away after use and every person is encouraged to shower and wash their hair after the visits.
Tomioka, around 12km from the nuclear plant, is one of the towns that have been completely evacuated. In total, 16000 inhabitants have had to leave their homes.
Minoru Endo, managing director at Honda Cars in Tomioka, travelled back to his home twice before the official limit was drawn in the end of April. He was then wearing homemade safety equipment: simple plastic protection.
The town is empty and deserted
He brings out his video camera and shows us a short recording from one of these visits. The town is empty and deserted.
– Look at how the cherry trees are blooming but nobody was there to celebrate spring this year, says Minoru.
He is clearly touched and shows us how cows are standing waiting by the fence. Many farmers have had to leave their animals and farms, but 19 people still refuse to leave the area.
Minoru temporarily lives with his wife in Honda’s holiday home for employees further inland but from July onwards they will have to find their own living solution. They wish to return.
According to Hideo Satoo, District Chief for Tomioka, it is going to take a long time.
– We have no idea how long this will go on for. The government claims it is acceptable to breathe in 20 Millisieverts per year but is that really true? Does that really apply to children as well? The government is giving out dosimeters but nobody really knows how to use them, says Hideo Satoo clearly dissatisfied.
“Soma will rise again”
The landscape we continue our travels through is deserted. The fog is thick over the mountains and people stay inside.
In the city of Soma, 35km from the nuclear plant, we meet Michitane Soma, a highly ranked lord and leader of the city.
– I carry the same name as my ancestor who was the leader of Soma 150 years ago when a large natural catastrophe also occurred. It is my responsibility to show the same kind of leadership today. Soma will rise again, says Michitane Soma.
Together with Asami Kawashima, responsible of the town’s important shrine, Lord Soma has started Soma Aid that receives and distributes help to those who need it. But he also wants to keep the Japanese traditions alive.
– There are large festivals organized in other towns during which participants pretend to be samurai. But it is different here. We are samurai, says Lord Soma.
Here in his city, the tsunami took 429 lives. 28 inhabitants still have not been found.
The city is well-known for its fish that is delivered to the Emperor, but the fishing industry is now on hold because of the radioactive materials that have leaked into the sea. 3-4000 individuals have lost their homes and currently live in temporary housing or in evacuee centres. This number is expected to rise when the city of Soma accepts evacuees from zones badly affected by the radiation.
Because of the fear of radiation, most volunteers and companies in the Northern parts of Japan avoid the Fukushima prefecture. The closer we get to the nuclear plant, the more it becomes obvious that very little has been cleaned up since the earthquake. Ships are wrecked on shore and motor vehicles and houses are still floating in the sea. Damaged houses tremble in the wind.
The risk for cancer is heightened
On the outskirts of Haranomachi, the road is blocked and our meter shows 0,456 microsievert/hr. For us, who only visit the area for a short period of time, this is not dangerous. However, it may increase the risk for cancer and genetic diseases for those who live here.
A pickup truck stops right next to us and an older man named Koyatsu steps out. He looks out over the border and points to a farm house on the other side:
– That is my son’s wife’s family home. How can radiation levels be so different from one side to another? We have been encouraged to try to live normally, but my relatives have left their home, says Koyatsu.
He evacuated to Niigata Prefecture after the earthquake, but has now returned with his 90 year old parents.
– The best thing is to be home, even if the earth is radioactive, says Koyatsu.
He is a rice farmer, but this year he won’t saw any new crops. Governmental information is poor and Koyatsu does not want to take any risks.
– I don’t understand anything. And I absolutely do not think that we get the correct information from the government.
For a long time I cannot forget about Koyatsu’s eyes in the fog: there he sits without safety equipment, without a mask, without concrete plans for the future.
A typhoon is on its way in over the sea and when it starts raining we drive off over the mountains.
by Elin Lindqvist