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

    New EU Asylum Rules Could Boost Rightists

    New regulations will seek to correct EU failures in dealing with migrant crisis, most notably inability to get member states to absorb a total of 160,000 refugees

    More Political Turmoil Likely in Iraq as Iran Waits in the Wings

    Analysts warn that Tehran, even though it may not be engineering the Sadrist protests in Baghdad, is seeking to leverage its influence on its neighbor

    Forced Anal Testing Case to Appear Before Kenya Court

    Men challenge use of anal examinations to ‘prove homosexuality’; practice accomplishes nothing except to humiliate those subjected to them, according to Human Rights Watch

    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.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora