Translated by Hervé Courtois
Episode 1: radioactivity, return to the abnormal
March 9, 2020
A look back at the ninth anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster – following the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. Today in Fukushima, the authorities are encouraging the return of refugees, without much success.
The restaurant “Atom Sushi” in Tomioka, one year after the reopening of the village, has still not reopened.
The decontamination works will last more than 40 years but around the power plant, the exclusion zone is “only” 341 km², and the roads and villages formerly condemned are reopened one after the other by the authorities – anxious to a return to normal.
Everywhere in the town of Fukushima, 80km from the power plant, they try to make people forget bad memories and make tourists coming back.
Except that villages like Iitate about fifty kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant are still hopelessly empty.
In the countryside near IItate, monitors are present everywhere in the landscape measuring radioactivity in microsieverts per hour.
How do we live there? The sociologist Cécile Asanuma-Brice, a researcher at the CNRS has been returning to the area every month for nine years. Ito-san travels the region with a Geiger counter and a shoulder strap dosimeter. Because as soon as we move away from the main axes, the future suddenly looks less bright.
Nobuyoshi Ito returned to live in the previously evacuated area and collects data on environmental contamination
Episode 2: living with radioactivity
Mr. Ito is always equipped with his dosimeter, to record the radioactivity accumulated in the reopened area.
Authorities are talking about a return to normal, and residents must get used to living with radioactivity. There are only two villages left in the 340 km² that are still too radioactive. Stations will be reopened in decontaminated pockets within these areas, but they will be fully automated to avoid irradiation of employees.
Throughout the city of Fukushima, signs display the countdown of the days before the opening of the Olympic Games
And the Olympic flame will leave at the end of the month from the J village, about twenty kilometers from the power plant, and will even pass right by it – but according to a timed route to avoid too much exposure.
Everywhere they want to send the message that the page has been turned: “Forget the radiation, and think about the bright future of the Olympic Games”.
Self-service food radioactivity detector in IItate’s only grocery store / restaurant
Except that to the rare refugees (no more than 20%) who returned to live in the reopened areas, it is something else that is been asked: to learn to live with radiation, on a daily basis.
In the region, everywhere, radioactivity detectors are omnipresent, to reassure the population.
To get used to be living with a radioactivity detector. This is why the company Tepco, responsible for the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, now speaks of “revitalizing” the area rather than about a return: it is because it had to be admitted that the original inhabitants would not return there.
At Tepco’s headquarters in Tokyo, the company was nationalized after the disaster and announces 30 to 40 years of decontamination work.
Episode 3: Fukushima nine years later, it is impossible to turn the page
On the Johoban highway that crosses the Fukushima area, an unbroken line of trucks transports radioactive waste to a disposal center. The soil measured at less than 8,000 becquerels per kilogram will be scattered everywhere.
March 11, 2020, 9 years to the day of the Fukushima disaster. And if the country has recovered from the magnitude 9.1 earthquake and tsunami that caused nearly 20,000 deaths, the area around the nuclear power plant is a wound that is far from being closed.
Along the Tohoku coast, a tsunami-proof wall blocks the horizon
The radioactivity is still there and the evacuated residents still do not return. More than 44,000 refugees are still missing even though. Despite the radiation that will be there to last, the authorities want at all costs to use the Olympics this summer as an opportunity to turn the page on this regrettable incident. And that’s kind of the message that Tepco wants to give, when it opened a few months ago in Tomioka, a brand new information center, an interactive museum located 10km from the nuclear plant, to tell its version of the story. And necessarily, their version of the story is a little biased.
In Tomioka, Tepco has just opened a museum to tell its side of the story and highlight all its efforts to revitalize the area.
No more than 20% of the evacuees returned to live near the plant, and almost exclusively elderly people like Ms. Kimiko. 9 years later, we are still far from the revitalization of Fukushima.
Mrs. Kimiko returned to live in Tomioka 10km from the nuclear plant three years ago, she no longer recognizes her environment.
Episode 4: mothers of Fukushima
Nine years after the earthquake, the nuclear disaster is not over. Many are not content with orders to return to normal, given the abnormality of daily life around Fukushima – punctuated by radioactivity measures and prohibited areas. And even outside this perimeter, many associations mainly led by women and mothers, act daily for more transparency.
Kaoru Konta is a medical doctor, she detects thyroid cancer.
For example, the MamaBecq, with a “Becq” like Becquerel, who inspect schoolyards with their Geiger counters. Or the Happy Island association, which organizes free screening for thyroid cancer in children. Happy Island is a funny name for such association, but you know how to say “happy island” in Japanese? “Fukushima”.
Marie Suzuki is president of the association “Happy Island”