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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More