Friday 13 December 2013

Voices of Fukushima

On Monday I showed a German journalist around Koriyama. We were able to interview some evacuees from Tomioka in the temporary shelter here, and we also visited a supermarket which does food testing on the premises. Let me share some of my impressions with you.

The three people we talked to from Tomioka in the exclusion zone were all very positive and resigned to making the best of things. Two years and nine months on, they have made a new life here and none of them contemplates going back to Tomioka. But it's only when you get talking to them that you realise what they have lost. As one man said, he used to live near the sea and in the summer with the windows open you could hear the sound of the waves. Here in Koriyama there are only cars and the noise of traffic. His relatives lived in the same village and when he walked around he knew everybody. Now he lives with his uncle in the shelter but his other relatives are scattered far and wide. Perhaps the most poignant part was when the journalist asked to see photos of his old house. 'But there are none' he said, 'everything was washed away. I lost everything.'

When we got onto the big questions, the opinions were strong but voiced gently, with an undertone of resignation. There was anger that no recovery work had been done in Tomioka, their early optimism now abandoned; there was irritation at the politicians who come and visit but don't listen; and there was unequivocal opposition to nuclear power (even from one man who worked 40 years in the nuclear industry). All they want now is a decent place to live and settle down. 

They were great people and we had a good laugh. Only writing this down now do I feel humbled by the way they're coping.

Next stop, a supermarket in the Kikuta area of Koriyama called Vereshu (ベレッシュ in Japanese). In October 2012 they built a glass-fronted food testing room right at the entrance to the shop so customers can see the food being tested. Actually it's a privately run farmers' market so the farmers bring the produce in, have it monitored on the spot, then put on the shelves. The manager said custom had plummeted after the accident but risen after installing the equipment, and increased considerably this year. Food in Japan has to have less than 100 becquerels per kilogram but almost all produce now tests ND (not detected). According to the manager, the only things that have shown positive these last two years have been blueberries and yuzu citrus, though these are still well below the permissible level. Although the two gamma testing machines were paid for by the prefecture, the organisation paid for the rest of the facility and foots the bill for the running costs including salaries for two staff. Asked how long they contemplated carrying on with the testing, the manager thought ten years at least. Even though almost everything tested is ND, every time a high level is detected and gets in the papers, say in another part of the prefecture, people start to get anxious again. So the message needs to be constantly reinforced. 

As we left, the store manager accosted us in the car park and in the freezing cold asked us to get the message out: 'Food here is safe. We're living normal lives. Just because there are problems at Fukushima Daiichi, it doesn't mean life here is dangerous. Look at the data, be objective, don't be swayed by scare-mongering on the internet.'

You can't help admiring these people for their spirit in the face of adversity, for taking a bad situation and making it better.
21 January 2014 Saw in the paper that the shop is testing a new machine (GAGG scintillator) which measures the raw veg. No need to chop and liquidise. 

1 comment:

  1. Still nothing done in Tomioka after the six months since we went there. Great shame, many will never return now anyway as they have tasted city life, young people especially.