Wasteland Surrounds Japan
Fukushima Power Plant
EMF Protection Devices
Magnetic Field Detector
November 20, 2011
By Chico Harlan
The Washington Post
NAMIE, Japan —
Eight months ago, people left this place in haste. Families
raced from their homes without closing the front doors. They
left half-finished wine bottles on their kitchen tables and
sneakers in their foyers. They jumped in their cars without
taking pets and left cows hitched to milking stanchions.
Now the land stands empty, frozen in time, virtually untouched
since the March 11 disaster that created a wasteland in the
12-mile circle of farmland that surrounds the Fukushima
Daiichi nuclear-power plant.
Some 78,000 people lived here; only a handful have been permitted
to return. Cobwebs spread across storefronts. Mushrooms
sprout from living-room floors. Weeds swallow train tracks.
A few roads, shaken by the earthquake, are cantilevered like
rice paddies. Near the coastline, boats borne inland by the
tsunami still litter main roads.
Only the animals were left behind, and their picture is not pretty.
Starving pigs have eaten their own. Cats and dogs scavenge
for food. On one farm, the Tochimotos', the skulls of 20
cows dangle from their milking tethers.
Several thousand Fukushima workers, draped in white protective
gear, pass daily through the front gates of the plant, site
of the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.
But beyond the plant, for at least 12 miles in any direction, the
Japanese government maintains a no-entry zone, with teams of
policemen sealing off all roads going in.
Nobody is allowed to live there — a condition that could continue
If the dormant Chernobyl plant in Ukraine provides any guide, the
land surrounding the Fukushima facility will one day grow
wild, with villages eventually bulldozed and buried. Maybe
decades from now, Japan will tailor the area to
adventure-seeking tourists, or it will use the region as a
wildlife preserve. For now, though, the land surrounding the
nuclear plant still preserves the history of those who were
told to abandon it.
The area is dangerous over long periods, with many spots even 10
miles away from the plant showing radiation levels exceeding
those at the facility's main gate. But spend a full day
driving through all parts of the no-entry zone and the risks
are minimal, with a total exposure comparable with that from
a 12-hour plane ride or two chest X-rays.
Only emergency workers and select residents with special permits
are allowed to enter the zone, and only for brief trips.
When two Washington Post reporters rode into the zone by
traveling with a local rancher, only a few cars whizzed
along the main roads. The rancher, Masami Yoshizawa, said
that only about 1,000 of the area's 3,500 cows are still
alive. At one point, while driving, he spotted a few brown
cows with yellow tags on their ears.
"Those are probably mine," he said.
Many who once lived close to the nuclear plant have felt severed
from their previous lives. But Yoshizawa's case shows an
alternative torment: He makes daily visits to his
now-contaminated farmland, preferring a dangerous reminder
of his old life to no reminder at all.
Before the nuclear accident, Yoshizawa worked at the M Ranch, a
74-acre farm with the curvature of a salad bowl. From the
corral where Yoshizawa kept his cattle, one could see the
towerlike stacks of Fukushima Daiichi, just nine miles away.
Yoshizawa and his fellow ranchers raised the cows for their prized
Wagyu beef, selling them to wholesalers for $13,000 per
head. Then, in a five-day span of meltdowns and explosions,
cesium and other radioactive isotopes were swept across the
countryside; the cattle were worthless, and the farm's
president, Jun Murata, lost $6.5 million in assets. On March
18, Murata told his employees that this was the end. He went
to the corral and unlatched the gate. Some 230 cows wandered
into the open.
Most of the employees never returned. But Yoshizawa, with no wife
and children, spent the next week thinking about his
livelihood. He identified in new ways with the animals he
once sold for their beef — he felt as if his own worth, too,
was verging on zero.
So he clung to the ranch. He obtained a permit from a friend at the
local mayor's office, allowing him unfettered access to the
no-go zone. He bought a dosimeter, clipping it to the front
window of his car. He — and often Murata as well — made
daily trips to the ranch, feeding the cattle with
contaminated hay. A few of the animals turned feral, but
most just stuck around.
Livestock left behind
Still, there's a question now about how best to treat the creatures
inside the 12-mile zone. A few animal-rights groups have
made quick trips to save dogs and cats — but not livestock.
Scientific groups say the animals represent the best chance
for research on the effects of radiation. But in May, the
Japanese government recommended that farmers euthanize their
animals. It also banned farmers from bringing feed into the
Yoshizawa says he'll defy the order to euthanize his cattle, but he
also understands the government's logic — self-preservation
in a disaster. It's the same logic that forced the
Tochimotos to leave in such a rush. Yoshizawa knew the
Tochimotos. They were his neighbors. And on his recent trip
into the no-go zone, Yoshizawa stopped by their house —
where the people lived on the second floor, the animals on
Persimmons rotted on the driveway. Near the front door, weeds rose
knee-high. A Mazda Titan truck was speckled white and black
by birds. The cows, who died without being milked, no longer
even smelled, their flesh pulled off by other animals.
"They were dead within 10 or 12 days," Yoshizawa said.
He said he had talked to the Tochimotos just once since the
disaster. "They have been having nightmares about cows," he
said. "They can't even think to come back here and see. But
you can't blame them. They made the right choice."