asahi shinbun, evacuation zone, fukushima, futaba, nuclear radiation, relocation

In shadow of Fukushima nuclear plant, a town withers away , asahi, 2/26/14

FUTABA, Fukushima Prefecture–A calendar showing March 2011 still hangs on a wall, while a clock suspended from the ceiling remains stuck at 2:50. Documents and other files are scattered on the floor around desks and shelves. Potted plants withered and died long ago.

Outside, on the rooftop of the Futaba town office, one can clearly see the isolation and desolation of this dying town where time has stopped.

For the first time since the aftermath of March 2011 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, an Asahi Shimbun reporter entered the town office of Futaba on Feb. 25.

All 6,400 residents have fled the town.

A notice pasted on the interior of the front entrance, underlined in red, reads: “Since this office is located within 10 kilometers of the nuclear plant, you have to stay indoors. Please don’t go outside.”

On the second floor, sheets of paper pasted on a board show information that Tokyo Electric Power Co. released about conditions at the nuclear plant.

“The pressure in the containment vessel has risen abnormally,” reads information that arrived before dawn on March 12, 2011.

Futaba officials evacuated the town office on the central government’s orders that day, a day after the disaster started at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

About 96 percent of Futaba, including areas around the town office, has been designated a difficult-to-return zone because annual accumulated radiation levels exceed 50 millisieverts.

The zone is surrounded by barricades, making it impossible for people to enter freely.

Wearing a mask and a white protective gear that covered my entire body and carrying a dosimeter, I entered Futaba after obtaining permission from the town office. A town official, who guided me around Futaba, wore similar clothing.

After leaving the town office, we headed to the Nagatsuka district in the central part of Futaba, where there were no signs of residents.

Trucks for decontamination work, passenger cars and the cawing of crows sometimes broke the silence.

A damaged shutter rattled as it was hit by the wind. A house that collapsed in the shaking of Great East Japan Earthquake covered part of the road. The Shohatsujinja shrine on the opposite side of the house was tilted, and a 3-meter-high stone monument remained toppled and snapped in the middle.

“My classmate was the chief priest of this shrine. I held (traditional) ‘shichigosan’ festivals for my daughter in this shrine. I also held purification rituals for my car here,” said my guide, Kunihiro Hiraiwa, 52, head of the town office’s public relations section.

When the magnitude-9.0 earthquake struck on March 11, 2011, Hiraiwa headed a team in charge of issues related to the nuclear power plant. His duties included applying for central government grants for the town’s hosting of a nuclear power plant.

He was also the person who received information from TEPCO when problems occurred at the plant.

“TEPCO had said, ‘The nuclear power plant is absolutely safe.’ We had never imagined that such a disastrous situation like this would arise,” Hiraiwa said, looking at an empty street.

The Futaba swimming beach was crowded with about 85,000 people in 2010. The seaside facility operated by the town office was damaged by the 2011 tsunami.

From a higher floor of the facility, we could see the Pacific Ocean extend to the horizon and gentle waves hitting the beach.

Radiation levels are relatively low in the northeastern part of Futaba, and the area was designated a zone being prepared for the lifting of the evacuation order in May 2013.

Peering over the barricade, however, we saw withered grass at places where houses were washed away by the tsunami. Infrastructure improvements and decontamination work have not made progress.

Hiraiwa’s house is located in the area.

“Nothing has changed (since May 2013),” he said.

By TAKURO NEGISHI/ Staff Writer

About liz

from the u.s., recently moved from kobe to sendai, japan, researching community-based housing recovery after disaster.

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