Lone Holdout's First Nuclear
Winter Looms In Tohoku
Fukushima Power Plant
EMF Protection Devices
Magnetic Field Detector
Special to The Japan Times
Sunday, Dec. 18, 2011
Fukushima Prefecture — As bitter winds blow around cesium
and other radioactive particles spewed from the nearby
Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant's reactors, Naoto
Matsumura lights a cigarette, which he considers relatively
good for his health.
"I would get sick if I stopped smoking; I have a lot to
worry about," says Matsumura, 52, who reckons he is the only
person still living within a 20-km radius of the world's
worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl.
According to reports from Japan's Nuclear and Industrial
Safety Agency published in August, following the Great East
Japan Earthquake on March 11, and subsequent explosions at
three reactors about 13 km from Matsumura's door, the plant
operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) has released
168 times more radiation than the atomic bombs that razed
Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
Living without electricity or enough money to fill his
generators with gas, even as the mercury is already dipping
below zero, Matsumura wonders if his neighbor's supply of
charcoal will be enough to keep him warm through the frigid
winter in his corner of the once-thriving town of Tomioka
that used to be home to 16,000 people.
He's worried, too, that the hundreds of animals he's been
feeding since the area's other residents were evacuated in
haste on March 12 — some 400 cows, 60 pigs, 30 fowl, 10
dogs, more than 100 cats, and an ostrich — won't survive to
see another spring.
"They need help from humans," he says while lighting another
of the 20-odd cigarettes he admits to smoking a day. "My
supplies to feed them will be gone by the end of December.
They need food, and buildings for shelter from the winter.
I'm the only one taking care of everything. The government
should do it, but I'm doing it."
As we stand in a rice field outside the exclusion zone about
40 km due west of the ongoing meltdowns, Matsumura tells me
that he comes from an ancestral line of samurai, and he was
raised by a "spartan" father to work hard and think for
A lifelong farmer, he's lived alone since separating from
his wife 10 years ago. When his worried children, aged 23
and 21, called from their homes in distant Saitama
Prefecture after the explosions in March, Matsumura says he
told them: "Don't worry. If the whole world dies from this
nuclear disaster, I'm still not going to die. I'm not going
to leave here."
Indeed, this silver-haired, soft-spoken man of the land who
has enjoyed playing golf in Saipan and the Philippines, says
he now views himself as a lone maverick in a toxic desert —
one hunted by an invisible enemy called "radioactivity"
eating away at living things now and into the future. As the
other animals perish around him, he wonders when it will be
All Matsumura's friends have left, and they no longer ask
him to bring their stuff to them in the temporary shelters
they must now inhabit. The automatic vending machines, which
used to light up the country roads, no longer work.
After sunset, he is surrounded by miles of total darkness
devoid of human movement. He has no television or Internet,
only a cellphone that loses charge all too quickly. He
stokes up a charcoal fire in his house, tucks himself into a
futon, and goes to sleep by 7 p.m. — haunted by nightmares
of what could be happening inside his body.
Waking with the rising sun, he eats another can of food, and
takes his dogs for a 20-minute walk among barren fields. He
spends daylight hours cleaning grave sites and tending to
animals withering around him in their stalls, sheds and
barns. Meanwhile, cows and pigs and other animals set free
by their fleeing owners in March now fend for themselves in
wild, radiation-contaminated nature.
Even nine months after everybody else fled on March 12,
Matsumura says he is still shocked by the scenes of cruel
death he encounters daily: the bones of cows that starved
tied up or in confined spaces after they'd eaten all their
fodder; a locked cage full of 20 shrivelled canaries denied
by their keeper's panic even a chance to fly away free.
"People don't want to see dead animals. They would be
shocked if they saw it for themselves. I see it every day,"
this animal-lover says quietly with real feeling.
His efforts to publicize the plight of the animals haven't
worked, he says. He tells how he once showed a low-level
government official around nearby Tomioka town — formerly
famous for having one of the longest cherry-blossom tunnels
in Japan — and told him they should at least take away
carcasses. But even though Tepco brings in thousands of
workers to stabilize the reactors, he says the official told
him: "Sorry, Mr. Matsumura, we can't do anything inside the
20-km evacuation zone."
On April 21, more than a month after the ongoing disaster
began, Matsumura joined a protest outside Tepco's
headquarters in Tokyo. "I told them, 'Take care of the pets
and farm animals, it's your responsibility.' But they only
said, 'We are studying it.' They still haven't taken
action," he reported.
In September, he showed two lower-level Tepco officials
around Tomioka. During their conversation together, he says,
"I told them to tell the top people about what they saw.
Maybe they told them, but the top guys pretend they don't
know anything," he said, pausing to light a cigarette. "They
don't have human hearts. They only think about money."
Though he's not alone in lambasting Tepco, Matsumura's rage
is more intense than most. He blames Tepco for "killing" his
100-year-old aunt, who he says died from exhaustion after
being moved from several hospitals between Tomioka and
finally Aizu-Wakamatsu in western Fukushima Prefecture.
"Many people died like that because of Tepco," he declares.
"It's a terrible company. They have more power than the
national parliament, because they control the supply of
electricity, and they have power over the media through
He says Tepco, which will need massive taxpayer funding to
stay afloat, has only paid nuclear refugees ¥1 million each
in compensation (about $12,000).
Yet the company, which claims to be on schedule with its
plan to achieve a cold shutdown of the damaged reactors by
the new year, saw fit to present itself in a positive light
when, on Nov. 12, it invited 35 journalists (including four
from overseas) for a first media view of its wrecked nuclear
"I think it's remarkable that we've come this far,"
Environment Minister Goshi Hosono told those on the tour.
"The situation at the beginning was extremely severe. At
least we can say we have overcome the worst."
Such hints of hubris, however, sit uneasily with the
In November, the esteemed journal Proceedings of the U.S.
National Academy of Sciences carried the results of an
international research study led by Teppei Yasunari of the
Universities Space Research Association in Maryland. This
found that radioactive cesium had "strongly contaminated"
the soils in "large areas" of eastern and northeastern
Japan, including Fukushima Prefecture, while western Japan
had been relatively sheltered by mountain ranges. (To view
this report, visit www.pnas.org/content/108/49/19530.)
Since the release of those findings, the Tokyo government
has recently banned the sale of rice from large swaths of
Fukushima Prefecture after high levels of cesium were found
in crops from Onami, about 65 km northwest of the nuclear
Though Matsumura, who doesn't have a geiger counter, says he
somehow thinks radiation levels are decreasing, he believes
it's not safe for former residents to return to Tomioka. And
he's adamant that children shouldn't eat rice from eastern
Fukushima Prefecture, though he does himself.
Parking his white Suzuki truck near Koriyama City train
station outside the evacuation zone, he says that his plight
and that of the animals in his locality is not widely known
in Japan — largely, he riles, because TV companies have
ignored him or repeatedly canceled segments about him.
"It's now impossible for me to meet with Japan's mainstream
media," he explains. "If I say bad things about Tepco, and
the government, they won't run it because Tepco is their
One tabloid magazine, Friday, did run a two-page feature on
Matsumura, with bizarre photos of him feeding an ostrich —
which it quipped in bad taste was "the official mascot of
So, as he believes himself to have been ostracized in his
native Japan, Matsumura has made a few trips to Tokyo to beg
foreign journalists to tell the truth about Fukushima. To
reach him inside the no-entry evacuation zone, one such from
Italy walked along railway tracks for 20 km under cover of
darkness to evade police patrols. Searching for him, as
their meeting was prearranged, Matsumura says he could hear
the man's footsteps in a pitch-black railway tunnel. "When
he was about 10 meters away, I called out ghost noises — and
he was dumbstruck with fear. He later told me he'd thought
his heart was about to explode."
Another visit Matsumura received recently was on a Sunday
afternoon in November. The farmer tells how an ambulance
suddenly showed up at his door. "I was a bit unnerved that
they'd come into my house, and I didn't know who'd sent
them," he said, adding that "they checked my body and my
health, but they didn't find anything bad in particular."
He gets most passionate talking about the abandoned animals
and about nuclear energy. "The whole world should stop using
this bad form of energy. Anything we build with our hands
can break someday," he says. "Governments should stop lying
to us. Everybody in Fukushima — everybody — doesn't believe
the news about the nuclear situation."
As he prepares to leave me at the station and return to his
home in the no-go zone before night falls, he says that
Tomioka, like other towns in the evacuation zone, will
disappear unless drastic action is taken immediately.
As he put it: "Only senior citizens are saying they want to
move back, not the younger people. Eventually, in 20 years,
all these elders will pass away, and there won't be any
younger generation to maintain the circle of life. Nobody
will be left."
But for now, he says, he's going to stay. "I am not bored or
depressed, because I'm used to being alone. I know I am
doing the right thing. My own doctor says I'm a 'champion of