One Million People’s Lives Devastated By Fukushima’s Evacuation
Over the past month the world has watched the catastrophic events unfold in Japan. A 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast, devastating itself, however it triggered a tsunami wave that was measured as high as 25 feet. That wall of water took a direct path to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima Prefecture. Over the last 30 days 13,000 people are confirmed dead with 18,000 missing. Estimates place the cost of repair over $300 Billion dollars. However as devastating as the several hour long natural disaster was, it is dwarfed by the human toll that is being caused by the human disaster in the form of a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiich Nuclear Plant.
The map above shows you the cities that either are currently in the evacuation zone, or will likely need to be placed into the evacuation zone. No one has officially come out and stated how long these evacuations will need to be. However let me provide some context. The Nuclear Safety Agency has officially ranked this disaster at a “7″ the highest rating an event can get in terms of size, scope, and effect on the world. The only other event ranked a “7″ was Chernobyl. At Fukushima one of the reactors used nuclear fuel mixed with Plutonium 239. That reactor core has been reported to have been cracked. Plutonium 239 has a half life of 24,000 years. At Chernobyl many miles radiating out from the plant today remains uninhabitable by humans 15 years since the event, and Chernobyl did not use Plutonium as it’s nuclear fuel.
The population of effected people looks like this:
- Minamisoma: 71,000
- Soma: 41,000
- Fukushima: 300,000
- Koriyama: 350,000
- Shirakawa: 65,000
- Iwaki: 370,000
- Un-incorporated villages: 75,000
- Total: 1,272,000
One Million People’s Lives Devastated By Fukushima’s Evacuation
(the following recap courtesy of Fortune)
In ordinary times, Minamisoma (“south” Minami) is a bustling little city of about 71,000 that sits along the Pacific coast line in Japan’s Fukushima prefecture, about 150 miles north of Tokyo.
Most of the town’s citizens used to work in the small shops and businesses that line its streets — beauty parlors and banks, small restaurants and coffee shops, fast food joints, a bakery and a couple of big supermarkets. There are a couple of large factories — a plant that makes kitchen appliances is one of the largest employers in town, and there’s a Hitachi Denshi factory that makes electronics for the auto industry. But small business is the town’s economic lifeblood.
It’s as ordinary a Japanese town as you could find, except for one fact: these days, small or large, all the businesses have one thing in common: they’re closed. Ride through the Minamisoma’s main streets today, and you’ll see shades drawn in the windows of nearly all the small businesses.
These are not, needless to say, ordinary times. Minamisoma today is a place where the simple act of paying a cab fare reduces the driver to tears. The city, at its closest point, lies just 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) north of the stricken Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant that is now the site of the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl. As such, the town sits at the geographic core of what’s become a strange, nuclear never-never land: for nearly three weeks now, the Japanese government’s “guidance” to those living 20 to 30 kilometers away from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi reactors is that they can remain in town should they so choose, but they should stay indoors or else risk exposure to radioactive gases.
As such, to cruise through Minamisoma, as I did this past weekend with a colleague, Tokyo-based freelance reporter Hideko Takayama, is to visit a nuclear ghost town. Radioactivity levels at 8am Saturday, according to the local government, were completely normal, so we decided to venture in. The town’s mayor, Katsunobu Sakurai, had actually issued a plea on YouTube for reporters to come and see for themselves the devastating impact the ongoing nuclear crisis is having on his little city.
(The following recap courtesy of NPR)
Hidekatsu Sato stands in the doorway of his gutted house and looks out impassively at the sea as it laps up against the harbor wall just a few meters away. Born and raised here, he went to Tokyo to work as a plumber, then returned a few years ago to live out his retirement years.
“I came back here to die, and that’s still my plan,” the grizzled 73-year old said. “I’m not leaving.”
With radiation leaking from a nuclear power plant near his city, he may not have that choice.
Jutting out into the Pacific Ocean on Japan’s devastated northeastern coast, Soma — population 38,000 — is a microcosm of the calamity that befell this country on March 11. Like dozens of other towns, Soma bore the full force of the earthquake, then was inundated by the towering tsunami that raced in behind it.
Now, it is struggling to cope with the unfolding crisis at the nearby Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex.
Soma sits in the shadow of the crippled facility that was badly damaged by the tsunami and has been leaking radioactivity into the air and sea and has forced tens of thousands of people to flee or hunker down indoors. Local crops and milk are contaminated, and there are fears that the future may hold more hardship than anyone here has ever known.
“I’ve never had much, and I don’t need much,” Sato said. “But I just don’t know how this is ever going to end.”
Even without the concerns over radioactivity, it is hard to imagine what is ahead for Soma.
Its harbor, once a popular destination for sport fishermen and tourists, smells of death.
Rotting fish are strewn across the one main street that has been cleared enough to allow emergency vehicles through. Clams and crabs intended for sale on what everyone expected would be just another ordinary day are mixed in with the piles of timber and debris that were once people’s homes, stores and schools.
Fukushima City, Japan
(The following Recap courtesy of Reuters)
Daylight is fading in Fukushima, and Futoshi Sato is resigned to another cold and tiresome night seeking customers in a city where nobody wants to go drinking any more.
The 26-year-old stands on a shop-lined road trying to hand out flyers for his nearby bar. But few people in this northeastern Japanese city, just 70 kilometres (44 miles) from the crippled Daiichi nuclear plant, want to linger in town.
Trains are still not running from the local station after the earthquake and tsunami that savaged north Japan this month, forcing commuters into long queues for buses to make it home at night. Then there are the fuel shortages and fears of radiation.
“It’s very lonely. During the day, it’s still crowded, but at night no one is walking around,” Sato said. “Fukushima was a city where people would go out drinking, but not now.”
In the world’s worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl in 1986, the nuclear plant continues to leak radiation three weeks after it was battered by the magnitude 9.0 quake and ensuing tsunami.
The government and plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co (9501.T), have conceded there is no end in sight to the crisis.
While the people of Fukushima soldier on, bar owners and restaurant employees wonder how much of a future they have.
The government is not doing enough, grunts 61-year-old Shigeru Matsuura, who along with his son runs a ramen noodle shop down a narrow street not far from the train station.
“Do you know Kan’s nickname?” he asked, referring to Japan’s under-pressure prime minister, Naoto Kan.
“No Action, Talk Only.”
Matsuura cuts off thick strips of simmered pork that will later garnish the deep bowls of broth and noodles.
But he has stopped selling the pan-fried dumplings that are a mainstay of ramen shops. Too many customers were concerned the vegetable filling might be contaminated.
“Everyone is worried so they go home early and don’t want to leave their houses,” he said about the radiation.
(The following recap is from the American Anthropoligical Associations Blog)
AAA member, Yoko Ikeda lives in Koriyama-city in Fukushima prefecture with her family. She is a recent graduate from the Graduate Center, City University of New York with a Ph.D. in anthropology. Here she gives an account of her experience living in Japan in the earthquake aftermath. Thank you, Yoko!
Koriyama is in the middle part of Fukushima prefecture, not near the ocean at all. My city was not affected by the devastating tsunami. Some buildings were damaged when the March 11 earthquake hit, but houses around my house had only minor structural damage, if any. Most people reported that much of the damage occurred from things falling inside the house and made quite a mess – the same was true for mine. Although parts of this city are without water and electricity, my area got them back within the same day of the earthquake. I believe nobody was killed or seriously injured in my city, although it is possible that such news has not been widely reported because of the massive disasters going on in many other places.
We are still getting many aftershocks. It is unbelievable how often we are having earthquakes each day. Even though we are used to earthquakes in general, what we’ve been experiencing now is unprecedented.
Many evacuees from the nuclear power plant area are here. There is no evacuation order or restriction to be outside in Koriyama right now and many stores are open. Because of the massive scale of the problem Japan now faces, there is some scarcity of gasoline and heating oil here, too. It seems that we are getting enough food supplies in stores that are open, but people often have to get in line to get in some grocery stores right now and the lines at the checkout are pretty long – 30 minutes to an hour at the store my mother went to.
I think that the biggest concern for people in Koriyama is what is happening with the broken nuclear power plant. Some people are worried about the nuclear power plant situations and have left the city; but for now, the overwhelming majority is here, living as normally as possible. Some people are taking radiation precautions by trying to minimize their time outside, and if they have to go out they wear a mask and hat. I hardly have been outside myself, but I don’t really have to since I am currently job hunting.
Since the Fukushima daiichi nuclear power plant is there really to provide electricity to the Tokyo area, Tokyo is now facing electricity shortages and doing some planned blackouts. The government is asking people to conserve energy as much as possible to minimize the impact of the reduced electricity supply.
In other parts of Fukushima, where the tsunami hit, many people are worried about missing people, and/or the immediate problem of the lack of sufficient food and heat at their shelters. Many evacuees in Fukushima and in other parts of Tohoku (Northeast Japan) are facing bitter cold weather and insufficient food. It’s frustrating to see people facing so many problems.
As a person living in Koriyama right now, I am worried about the nuclear power plant, although I think the level of radiation detected in my city is still ok given the circumstances. The level is about 2.8 to 3.8 microsieverts per hour. I’m also continuously checking on how the media is reporting the problems of the Fukushima daiichi overseas, and it seems pretty doomed. I still cannot believe how Fukushima is in the world news for such a sad and disastrous reason like this one.
- Evac zone to widen as exposure fears grow(search.japantimes.co.jp)
- Long-term health risk may widen evac zone(search.japantimes.co.jp)
- Japan to evacuate more towns around crippled nuclear plant – CNN (news.google.com)
- Living in the aftermath of the apocalypse(independent.co.uk)
- Japan nuclear disaster: Pictures show tsunami-ravaged Fukushima(dailymail.co.uk)
- Japanese Crisis Is Ranked Alongside Chernobyl(europebiz.wordpress.com)
- Inside a nuclear ghost town(money.cnn.com)