From the Fukushima forbidden zone: ‘I intend to stay until I die’

Tsunami devastation within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Tsunami devastation within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone (Naoto Matsumura)

TOKYO (TR) – In spite of the government-mandated 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, one outspoken farmer still lives without electricity and running water inside, risking exposure to potentially harmful levels of radiation.

Naoto Matsumura spends his days tending to livestock and a collection of pets at his residence in the town of Tomioka, located roughly five southwest kilometers southwest of the crippled plant in Fukushima Prefecture.

At the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on February 28, the farmer said a lack of assistance has forced him to take action and make a plea for help from around the world to try to save his hometown since disaster struck on March 11 of last year. “The status of Tomioka has not changed at all. It is basically a ghost town now. We have received no helping hands from the government or TEPCO,” said Matsumura, referring to Tokyo Electric Power Company, the operator of the plant, which was crippled and subsequently spewed radiation following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. “As I watch the city deteriorate, I can see that it is moving toward collapse each day.”

Sporting a dark blue work suit, the gray-haired, 52-year-old Matsumura initially left his home after the crisis began but returned before the no-go zone was established on April 22. As a result, many villages devastated by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami remain in a state of decline. Photos provided by the farmer show collapsed buildings, wrecked vehicles, cattle left for dead, numerous dogs, and at least one roaming ostrich.

Tomioka formerly had a population of approximately 16,000 people, many of whom now live in evacuation shelters. “They are suffering tremendously,” Matsumura said. “Many of them are stuffed into very cramped quarters in temporary housing. They don’t have anything to do with their time. They don’t know any of the people around them. They are under tremendous amounts of stress. Many have developed illnesses, with many even having died.”

With Matsumura’s parents living with his oldest sister in Shizuoka Prefecture, he carries on by himself, assisted through offerings of daily necessities from organizations against cruelty to animals and other private citizens. Kerosene obtained from consenting neighbors who fled keeps him warm in winter, and candles provide light in lieu of electrical appliances. During the summer months, he had no refrigeration and subsisted on canned foods.

Matsumura has been disappointed that the plight within the evacuation zone has not been covered to a large degree by the domestic media. Yet he acknowledges that entry into the area is punishable by arrest. “I have been going back and forth many times and been lucky to not have been caught,” he said. “If I am caught, then probably I will receive some kind of punishment. But afterwards I will figure out a way to smuggle my way back in.”

In addition to health concerns, enforcement of banning entry into the zone is to thwart crime. News reports have indicated that theft has been an issue, which Matsumura confirmed, stating that convenience store ATMs and homes have been robbed.

TEPCO currently provides monthly payments of 100,000 yen to every person that fled their home due to official evacuation advisories. For voluntarily evacuees, the company is scheduled to offer 600,000 yen in compensation payments to children and pregnant women starting in March, as based on the government’s Dispute Reconciliation Committee for Nuclear Damage Compensation. Other adults are to be given 80,000 yen.

On February 27, Matsumura had visited the offices of TEPCO in Tokyo to lodge a complaint regarding assistance for livestock and pets in the zone. The utility said was that it needed to first consider which party should carry the burden of responsibility for compensation, TEPCO or the government, said Matsumura. “Basically TEPCO’s response was to bow and offer an apology,” he said. “It was hard to take them seriously as they seemed to be following a manual. I see no progress going forward.”

The farmer has no idea how much radiation exposure he has received, and does not seem concerned. “I intend to stay until I die,” Matsumura said. “For me, the cats, the dogs, and cattle, we are all fine; we have no problems.”

But he has found evidence that radioactive cesium is indeed present. Rice samples taken from paddies showed radiation levels, as measured by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, to be both below and above current government-set limits of 500 becquerels per kilogram.

With the help of an acquaintance who has posted details of some of Matsumura’s activities on a blog in English, his pleas for help for this town have extended around the world, and he has received letters of encouragement in return.

“I don’t know how many more years I have left — maybe 10, 15, 20,” he said. “But I hope very much to see my dreams realized while I am still alive. I am dreaming and hoping that Tomioka will be restored to its former state.”

Note: This article originally appeared in the March issue of the No. 1 Shimbun. Please see the photo gallery below.

Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Tsunami devastation within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Tsunami devastation within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Tsunami devastation within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Tsunami devastation within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Cats within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Cats within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

A chicken coop within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
A chicken coop within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

A dog within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
A dog within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Tsunami devastation within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Tsunami devastation within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Tsunami devastation within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Tsunami devastation within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Tsunami devastation within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Tsunami devastation within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Tsunami devastation within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Tsunami devastation within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Tsunami devastation within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Tsunami devastation within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Tsunami devastation within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Tsunami devastation within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Tsunami devastation within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Tsunami devastation within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Tsunami devastation within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Tsunami devastation within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

A dog within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
A dog within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

A dog within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
A dog within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

An ostrich within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
An ostrich within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

A dog within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
A dog within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Dogs within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Dogs within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Dogs within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Dogs within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

A dog within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
A dog within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Livestock within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

A dog within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
A dog within the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in place around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant

(Photo by Naoto Matsumura)

Comment On This Article