News / Asia

    Japanese Towns Struggle to Adapt to New Reality

    A handout picture released by Greenpeace and taken on March 27, 2011 shows Greenpeace members monitoring contamination levels at Iitate village, 40 km northwest of the crisis-stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, and 20 km beyond the official evacuation zone.
    A handout picture released by Greenpeace and taken on March 27, 2011 shows Greenpeace members monitoring contamination levels at Iitate village, 40 km northwest of the crisis-stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, and 20 km beyond the official evacuation zone.
    Martyn Williams

    As engineers, emergency workers and troops battle to regain control of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, life goes on for thousands of people living just beyond a 20-kilometer evacuation zone. But it is not life as normal.

    There is something new on Radio Fukushima. Alongside with the weather and traffic reports, the station has begun delivering hourly radiation reports.

    Listen carefully and one place stands out: Iitate

    The village is 40 kilometers from the power plant, placing it well outside a 20-kilometer evacuation zone and the area where residents are advised to stay indoors.

    But the hourly radiation readings here are higher than many towns closer to the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which was disabled by a massive earthquake and tsunami that hit the area on March 11.

    At the entrance of the village hall, a plaque proudly displays Iitate's place as one of Japan's 39 most beautiful villages. Driving in to the town it is hard to ignore the scenic valleys, lush forests and distant mountains that earned the honor.

    But look beyond the scenery, and you notice there is no one around. Fields are empty, tractors sit idle, and at the center of the village there is no one on the streets.

    A few cars and the odd military truck pass through the intersection in front of the impressive village hall. Most of the drivers and their passengers are wearing white masks across their mouths and noses.

    The residents are confused, says Takashi Kobayashi, Iitate's general affairs manager.

    Kobayashi says because the village is more than 30 kilometers from the power station, the government has offered no recommendations to residents, but the radiation levels remain high.

    Farmers working Iitate's fields would exceed the annual recommended radiation limit in less than a month. Last week the International Atomic Energy Agency said radiation levels in soil topped a limit at which evacuation is advisable, but they have since fallen.

     

    A farmer drains milk into a pit in Iitate, northeastern Japan.
    A farmer drains milk into a pit in Iitate, northeastern Japan.

    The effect on agriculture is a worry. The village is defined by its farms, and their future is now in doubt.

    Kobayashi spends his day coordinating part of Iitate's response to the crisis and watching the news for any change in status at the plant.

     

    He says it is difficult to follow. Something gets better one moment, then something else goes wrong. He says that before the crisis he had never heard of microsieverts and becquerel, the units of radiation measurement that he now spends so much time studying.

    On Wednesday, village officials offered to evacuate pregnant women or new mothers who are worried about their health.

    About 20 kilometers down the road is Minami Soma. The town of 71,000 people sits in the center of the zone where authorities have recommended people stay inside as much as possible.

    Although it is closer to the Fukushima plant, radiation levels are about a tenth those of Iitate. A few people can be seen on the streets, but they do not seem to linger outside for long.

    A few weeks ago, the town ran short on food and gasoline. Trucks would not travel within 30 kilometers of the Fukushima plant, so deliveries were disrupted.

    The mayor's secretary, Sadayasu Abe, says the mayor took to YouTube to appeal for help, and now the town is managing to get enough supplies.

    Abe says a few shops have reopened and gasoline is again available. The city office is distributing relief supplies to residents who can not drive to shops.

    Some residents are even returning, feeling life at home beats that of an evacuation shelter.

    What the town most wants now, says Abe, is a clean bill of health.

    If the town gets that, it will again be able to tell residents that Minami Soma is a safe place to live.

    About 70,000 people have evacuated from around the Fukushima plant, and with government warnings that the nuclear crisis could go on for months, the communities nearby face a trying future.

    You May Like

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    What Take-out Food Reveals About American History

    From fast-food restaurants to pizza delivery, here's what the history of take-out food tells us about changes in American society

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora