The following is the summary of my presentation at the International Symposium on 12 Dec. 2013 at Slavic Research Center, Hokkaido University, about the situation of Iitate village after evacuation. Share freely.
Villagers deprived of their lives and livelihood by the Fukushima nuclear disaster
─From the viewpoint of social capital and sustainability
IItate village is situated north of Tokyo, and 30-50 km northwest of Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant (NPP). Its’ key industries are agriculture, stockbeef and dairy farming.
I was involved with the village before the accident as an energy consultant.
The village was focused on the collection of woody biomass and planned to utilize it as a self-sufficient heat source. Until the 1950's villagers had been making charcoal from local trees and shipping it to the city. It was the main business in winter.
In the 1960s' the "fuel revolution" changed life and commerce in the village. As charcoal was no longer used, the villagers lost their source of income, and they began to leave their homes to search for work outside of the village in winter. The population of the village decreased gradually thereafter.
Under the banner of "Madei Life", the villagers determined to create a small but beautiful village in which people could live happily and sustainably. "Madei" means conscientiousness in the local dialect.
Iitate village was heavily contaminated with radioactive substances such as cesium-137 and 134 by the Fukushima Dai-ichi NPP accident, following the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, on 11 Mar. 2011.
The main contamination seemingly occurred on 15 Mar. after the 2nd reactor cracked that morning. The northwest wind blew clouds of radioactive substances over the village. It fell to the ground as rain and snow during the night.
The government knew about this but the villagers were not informed of the situation until April. Many villagers continued to stay in their homes after that.
It wasn’t until July that almost all the villagers were finally evacuated.
A recent survey revealed that the villagers were exposed to an initial external dose of 7.0 mili grey per capita on average, with the highest being 23.6.
The population of the village was about 6200 and the number of households was about 1700 before the accident. The number of households almost doubled after evacuation, because the elderly lived in temporary housing, and the younger generation lived in apartments or single houses. Households were divided.
The Tohoku region, the northern part of Japan's main island of Honshu, is often subjected to cold weather in summer. It brings poor harvest and famines. Iitate is no exception. According to records, the population of the village was halved by the great famine in the 18th century.
Some traditional food of Iitate is related to the history of famine. Shimimochi, frozen and dried rice cake is of course a source of emergency provisions as well. Miso, seasoning made of rice, barley and soy beans with salt, is also an emergency food source. Both are now examples of Iitate's local specialties.
Villagers gather Sansai, shoots or young leaves of wild plants in spring, and hunt wild mushrooms in autumn. These were used as substitutes for rice or vegetables in times of famine.
Gathering Sansai and hunting mushrooms have become fun activities for the villagers in recent years.
They gather them not just for themselves, but also to share them with neighbors and relatives, as gifts from nature. Their value is not monetary; rather they serve as social capital to build and lubricate relationships.
Sansai and mushroom experts had been eagerly waiting for the season this year, but they are highly contaminated by radioactive cesium. They cannot be eaten, but TEPCO, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, which operated Fukushima Dai-ichi NPP, will not compensate the villagers for them, because they have no monetary value.
Young villagers are considering leaving the village, while some of the elderly are eager to return. But when they do return home, their lives will not be the same as before. They will have to take care of themselves without the help of the young, buy everything they need thereafter. And contamination of Sansai and mushrooms will last for many years to come.
Lives, livelihood, local culture and communities in harmony with nature were broken.