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After the Wave Pt.1: A Winding Road to Recovery
Fighting an invisible threat, hundreds of families are forced to move from their home an area now contaminated with radiation, deemed unlivable by the Japanese government.
Fukushima Prefecture, Japan – It was once a source of life, providing Odaka’s food, water and nutrients. But what can be given can also be taken away. Paddy fields once flourishing remain ruined saturated with sea salt, bearing only rubble and former signs of life.
Pop music plays on speakers and echoes throughout the once crowded streets, but no one is here to listen. A sign welcoming customers ushers in only wind, swirling reminisce of a life that once was and no longer will ever be.
Radiation from the Daiichi Nuclear Plant has separated families in Odaka, forcing them to move on, anywhere they can or have room. Many moved inland away from the shores towards the mountains, to a place bearing strong tradition and long-time history.
Aizuwakamatsu is thought to have been founded around 1,300 years ago and is widely known for its samurai house, 5-story castle and hot springs thought to cure ailments and wounds; fitting for a people in need of healing.
Not far from the sacred site, you’ll hear the voices of a new generation. They’re young and full of hope. Many of the children are the families that moved away from Odaka, looking to start anew. Hundreds of residents now living in Aizuwakamatsu may never return to the shores of the Fukushima Prefecture, fearful the radiation will cause long-term damage and illness.
The country of Japan has an aging population young people are having less children or none at all, creating an imbalance of growth. To see young, vibrant eager faces, full of ambition brings a sense of promise to the older generation and the people of Fukushima, people like Ms. Kikuchi Mihoko.
Mihoko is the owner of an environmental analysis center in Fukushima City, a mother of a teenage boy and resident of an area hit hard by radiation exposure.
“It seemed like it was safe and people were starting to believe it was safe to here, but then all the foreigners were still gone and if they’re not here then why should we be here? Back then we didn’t know who or what to believe.”
Strong winds blew the radiation northwest into all of the major cities like Fukushima and Koriyama. Heavy snowfall and rain contaminated soil and is to blame for lingering exposure.
“People were very skeptical about the government and didn’t believe what the government was saying,” Mihoko said. “Then we came here and the people began to feel better. They feel better now that they can test for radiation on their own. They were looking for someone like us to reassure them.”
Mihoko’s company tests for radiation in the water from local wells, soil, food and local agriculture. With a 2-ton led machine she can learn if food and water is safe enough to consume and if soil is safe enough to run and play on.
Residents also rent portable radiation testers, a tool that has helped ease the fear of other mothers in town.
“People wanted to borrow the detectors so I stared renting them out,” Mihoko said. “Mothers were able to check for high radiation spots around town and tell kids where it is safe to go play.”
Living miles from a nuclear power plant, nobody knew they were at risk, nobody predicted they would have to test for radiation in school lunches and in nearly every meal they consume. Their lives are changed forever.
Those living with the daily consequences of a nuclear meltdown have the learned the hard way. Despite having a new prime minister and energy policy, it’s unclear how much nuclear will be used in Japan’s future, even energy experts are left in the dark.
“They simply say that zero nuclear is irresponsible government policy,” said Mr. Nobuo Tanaka, Institute of Energy Economics. “It’s unclear how much percentage of nuclear the Liberal Democratic Party will want to maintain in the long term.”
Two years later, too many questions remain. One that will never be answered is why it was this Japanese community that had to pay the price.