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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs