3.11(Fukushima) and Hiroshima

Fukushima and Hiroshima: Nuclear power plant accident, Part 2 [Special 1]

Shattered lives: Following 50 residents of the Hamadori region of Fukushima Prefecture

by Seiji Shitakubo, Yoko Yamamoto and Yo Kono, Staff Writers

The eastern part of Fukushima Prefecture is known as Hamadori. Three months after the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant, which is located there, nearly 100,000 people are still compelled to live in shelters. Radioactive fallout has contaminated the fields and the sea and stolen people’s lives and dreams for the future. How do people feel about the accident at the nuclear power plant, and what do they expect of Hiroshima? The Chugoku Shimbun sought the cooperation of 50 residents of the Hamadori region and will provide regular reports on them, examining their feelings in the aftermath of the accident and the changes in their lives.

That fateful moment

Workers rush for exits
Sound of explosion heard over long distance

At 2:46 p.m. on March 11 a huge earthquake of magnitude 9.0 occurred off the coast of the Oshika Peninsula in Miyagi Prefecture. The shaking and the tsunami that followed caused the nuclear reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to go out of control. The radioactive materials that leaked from the plant as a result of the accident deprived the local residents of their everyday lives. We asked the 50 Hamadori residents where they were and what they were doing then.

Minoru Yoshida, 63, a resident of Okuma, was doing electrical work on the plant’s No. 4 unit. “Everyone was in a panic,” he said as he recalled the moment when the concrete building began to shake violently. There was a loud metallic crash. Then the lights went out and the room was thrown into pitch darkness.

Although they had repeatedly been told the plant was absolutely safe, trouble had occurred. Mr. Yoshida said it was “every man for himself” as they scrambled for the exit. There was a long line of cars, and it took Mr. Yoshida an hour just to get out of the facility’s main gate. Just after he left the plant’s premises, it was hit by the tsunami. He had barely escaped.

Over the years the nuclear power plant had provided many jobs in the Hamadori region. Three of the 50 residents who participated in our survey were at the power plant at the time of the disaster. Yoshinori Tsuchida, 62, of Futaba was in the process of getting parts for a reactor from a warehouse. Tatsuya Suzuki, 29, of Minamisoma was assembling scaffolding for painting work.

At 3:36 p.m. on March 12 there was a hydrogen explosion inside the building housing the No. 1 unit. At that moment the attention of not only the residents of the Hamadori region but the entire nation was focused on the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Keisuke Oka, 31, a firefighter from Minamisoma, was searching for the missing along the coast when he heard a loud boom. “If the sound of the explosion could be heard all the way up here, something terrible must have happened at the nuclear power plant,” he thought to himself as a chill ran up his spine.

Masako Kamata, 60, of Katsurao, was fleeing from the hospital in Futaba, where she had been trapped after the earthquake, to a nursing home by bus when she heard a loud boom. She wondered what it was. The bus was caught in heavy traffic, and she felt anxious. She didn’t learn that the sound had been that of an explosion at the nuclear power plant until she saw the television news on March 13.

Later, a 20-km “no-entry zone” was designated around the nuclear plant. A “planned evacuation area” and an “emergency evacuation preparation zone,” in which high levels of radiation were detected, were also established over a wider area. Of the 13 municipalities in Hamadori, which has a total population of approximately 536,000, the only areas that were not included in one of these three zones were Iwaki, (pop. 341,000), Soma (pop. 37,000) and Shinchi (pop. 8,000).

Koji Suzuki, 58, a fisherman, was relaxing at his home in Namie, about 50 meters from the coast, when the tsunami hit. Afterwards he was just happy to be alive and determined to rebuild by making money at fishing, but this hope was dashed by the accident at the nuclear power plant. Radioactive materials rained down over the ocean, and the Tokyo Electric Power Company released contaminated water into it. With a mixture of worry and anger, he wondered whether fish from Fukushima Prefecture could be sold at any price.

Transmission of information

Most learned of crisis the following day
Anger at delayed release of information

How and when did local residents first learn of the accident at the nuclear power plant? Twenty-five of the 50 residents included in our survey said they learned about it from the television.

About an hour after the earthquake, at 3:42 p.m. on March 11, the government announced that all power to the reactors’ cooling systems had been lost. That evening residents living within a 3-km radius of the power plant were ordered to evacuate.

But most of those who responded to our survey said they did not feel they were in any danger until the following morning. That is to say, the majority of them, including those who had learned about the accident from the television, were not aware of the seriousness of the accident until the explosion at the No. 1 unit on March 12.

Fifteen of them said they heard about it by word of mouth from friends, relatives or police officers. The home of Kazuhiro Matsumoto, 41, of Naraha, was partially destroyed by the tsunami. He heard from others at his evacuation center that there was a crisis at the nuclear power plant. Hidezo Sato, 66, of Namie said he first became aware that there was an emergency on the morning of March 12 when he was told by a police officer in a patrol car to evacuate.

Six of the respondents to our survey learned of the situation at the nuclear power plant via official broadcasts from their municipalities or over their community or fire department wireless systems. On the morning of March 12 the town of Namie put out a broadcast in which it urged residents to evacuate as a precautionary measure because there was something wrong at the nuclear power plant. That same morning Naraha also told its residents that problems were occurring at the nuclear power plant. This suggests that municipalities themselves had only vague information about the situation. Three residents said they learned about the accident via the radio, and one learned of it via a cellular phone news bulletin.

As the days passed, the residents’ dissatisfaction with the government and TEPCO grew. “I am angry because they seem to have been hiding information that was disadvantageous to them and then releasing it later,” said Fumihito Hayama, 35, of Futaba. In fact, TEPCO did not reveal the results of their analysis showing that meltdowns had occurred at the No. 1, 2 and 3 reactors until late May, more than two months after the disaster.

In response to the survey, all 50 of the Hamadori residents said that the provision of information by the government and TEPCO was either “unsatisfactory” or “inadequate.”


Hamadori is the name commonly used to refer to the eastern part of Fukushima Prefecture, which is bounded by the Pacific Ocean on the east and by the Abukuma Plateau on the west. Its area is approximately 2,970 square km, 1.35 times the size of Tokyo, which represents 21 percent of the land area of Fukushima Prefecture. The prefectural Regional Development Bureau divides the region into north and south areas. The northern area, which includes 12 municipalities and has a population of approximately 195,000, is referred to as the Soma Area. The southern area, which consists of the City of Iwaki and has a population of 341,000, is referred to as the Iwaki Area.

1. Residence at time of accident (distance from power plant)
2. Occupation/title
3. Comment

Keisuke Oka, 31
1. Minamisoma (28 km)
2. Firefighter
3. He heard the blast from the explosion at the nuclear power plant while searching for the missing in the city. “At first I didn’t know what had happened, and I was bewildered,” he said. His 85-year-old grandfather is a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Ayako Kobayashi, 50
1. Minamisoma (33 km)
2. Housewife
3. Although her home is outside of the evacuation area designated by the government, high levels of radiation were detected on its rain gutters. She is worried about the future effects of radiation on the health of her two daughters, who are around the age of 20.

Tomoko Shineha, 27
1. Minamisoma (22 km)
2. Housewife
3. Her husband, a doctor, is an expert on radiation who has done research on the nuclear test site on Bikini and other nuclear-related issues. She said she put her trust in her husband’s analysis of the information at the time of the accident at the nuclear power plant. She is concerned about the effects on the health of their 2-year-old daughter.

Tatsuya Suzuki, 29
1. Minamisoma (16 km)
2. Construction worker
3. Until the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, he had assembled scaffolding and done other work there and at other facilities. “I was taken in by the myth of safety while working there. I never want to go back to a nuclear power plant,” he said.

Shoichi Suzuki, 56
1. Minamisoma (25 km)
2. Lumber business
3. He was worried when the members of the news media left the area immediately after the accident at the nuclear power plant and he no longer knew what was happening in the city. He began to distrust the information provided by the government and TEPCO.

Kenichi Yamazaki, 65
1. Minamisoma (25 km)
2. Former high school teacher
3. He taught social studies and was teaching part-time until March. He has participated in efforts to preserve Article 9 of the Constitution. In the 1980s he listened to the accounts of atomic bomb survivors living in the Hamadori region.

Takumi Aizawa, 40
1. Iitate (40 km)
2. Prefectural government employee
3. Seminars on radiation have been held for local residents, primarily the young people. “Residents have been exposed to radiation. The government must act promptly to provide long-term medical care.”

Mari Kobayashi, 46
1. Iitate (33 km)
2. NPO employee
3. She moved to Iitate seven years ago and has resolved to stay. “After my husband died four years ago, the forests and wildlife provided solace. I won’t leave Iitate.”

Kenta Sato, 29
1. Iitate (45 km)
2. Vice chair of the local junior chamber of commerce
3. It is difficult to find a new location for the molding company he runs with his father, and the company’s future is in doubt. “The residents of Iitate need to know how much radiation they have been exposed to.”

Tadayoshi Sato, 67
1. Iitate (45 km)
2. Farmer
3. He is the head of the first village-run farming organization. “If they stop farming for two or three years, it’s hard for older people to get back into it, from an emotional standpoint as well. It could lead to the end of the village.”

Hachiro Sato, 59
1. Iitate (40 km)
2. Farmer
3. As a result of his activities with local youth organizations, he took an interest in nuclear issues and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and learned about the effects of radiation on the body. “The facts of the internal exposure must be recorded as evidence.”

Mikiko Sato, 60
1. Iitate (40 km)
2. Chair, village women’s society
3. She spent the first two nights after the earthquake in her car. She gathered the members of the women’s society and they prepared meals for evacuees from Minamisoma and other areas. “I worry about the radioactive contamination of food.”

Kenichi Takano, 60
1. Iitate (37 km)
2. Company employee, livestock farmer
3. About 25 years ago he took over his grandfather’s livestock farming business and expanded it, but in mid-June he gave away his cows and evacuated. “I wanted to preserve the Iitate brand of cattle, but it may be impossible.”

Yoshimune Hasegawa, 32
1. Iitate (44 km)
2. Dairy farmer
3. He planned to take over the farm from his father but has abandoned that idea because he has a 2-year-old child. He is commuting from the City of Fukushima to Nasu in Tochigi Prefecture and looking for a place to move to while caring for his relocated cows.

Masako Kamata, 60
1. Katsurao (23 km)
2. Pig farmer
3. The pig farm that she and her 68-year-old husband had run for the last 27 years was forced out of business as a result of the accident at the nuclear power plant. “We lost our land, our home and our livelihood.” She is worried about the effect of radiation on their health.

Fumio Matsumoto, 59
1. Katsurao (19 km)
2. Company employee
3. He is employed by a public works-related company and has cut grass at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. He is more concerned about the possibility that the stress of an extended period as an evacuee may exacerbate his mother’s diabetes than about exposure to radiation.

Aya Kikuchi, 17
1. Namie (13 km)
2. High school student
3. She has been x-rayed after being injured while playing volleyball but had never thought about the effects of radiation. She worries about possible effects should she become pregnant in the future.

Hidezo Sato, 66
1. Namie (8 km)
2. Seed and plant business
3. Because of his experience as head of the local administrative district, he became head of the residents’ association at the evacuation center. He is seeking substantial compensation from both the government and TEPCO because the residents were forced to evacuate.

Seiichi Shiga, 56
1. Namie (11 km)
2. Restaurant management
3. “My business existed because of the money and jobs the nuclear plant brought to the town.” He now has no income. “I want the government to seriously consider providing compensation.”

Chihiro Suzuki, 18
1. Namie (9 km)
2. High school student
3. “My life is just beginning. I don’t want to get cancer and have to fight the government and TEPCO in court.” She wants to know the amount of the radiation she has been exposed to and its possible effects.

Koji Suzuki, 58
1. Namie (6 km)
2. Fishing industry
3. He quit his job with the municipality five years ago and began fishing with his brother. With regard to TEPCO’s release of contaminated water into the ocean, he said, “I want them to fully compensate us for the harmful rumors about fish from Fukushima.”

Shunji Sekine, 69
1. Namie (27 km)
2. Doctor
3. At the time of the accident, he was being examined at a local clinic. He was exposed to 1 millisievert of radiation. “It was tough because there was no medicine. I would like them to check the children’s exposure to radiation over a period of time.”

Yoshihiko Monma, 32
1. Namie (7 km)
2. Singer/songwriter
3. After the accident at the nuclear power plant, in mid-April he gave a joint briefing and musical performance in Hiroshima. “I learned about the recovery of Hiroshima as well as radiation, and it boosted my spirits.”

Shiro Yamada, 71
1. Namie (12 km)
2. Head of regional agricultural mutual relief association
3. With the cooperation of local farmers, the association built a canal to irrigate about 200 hectares of land, but because of the accident at the nuclear power plant their hard work has gone to waste. They will request that rapeseed be scattered from the air to absorb radioactive materials.

Nao Watanabe, 14
1. Namie (10 km)
2. Junior high school student
3. He lives with five other family members, and his father is a municipal employee in charge of disaster prevention. He loves his hometown. “I was hoping to go to work at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in the future, but that’s unthinkable now.”

Miho Inoi, 23
1. Futaba (3.8 km)
2. Part-time elementary school teacher
3. When she was a girl she toured the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. “Local officials and TEPCO stressed the safety of the plant, but look what happened.” In April she started teaching at a school in Kazo, Saitama Prefecture, where she moved after the accident.

Akemi Obata, 43
1. Futaba (6 km)
2. Agricultural cooperative employee
3. She assumed responsibility for the temporary base that the agricultural cooperative set up in Kazo, Saitama Prefecture, to which part of the town’s residents evacuated. She is determined that the town’s history shall not end with this disaster.

Yoshinori Tsuchida, 62
1. Futaba (4 km)
2. Retired carpenter
3. At the time of the earthquake he was assisting with a periodic inspection of the No. 4 unit at the No. 1 nuclear power plant. “I made a mad dash to the main gate and got out of there.” After the accident he turned down repeated requests to work at the plant.

Tomiko Nakamura, 59
1. Futaba (5 km)
2. Chair of town women’s society
3. “We asked the town and TEPCO to strengthen the safety measures at the nuclear power plant, but they insisted that it was safe.” She hopes evacuees of each town will be able to move into public housing and other facilities as a group.

Fumihito Hayama, 35
1. Futaba (3.8 km)
2. Operator of iron works
3. He set up an organization in Tokyo to provide information about the nuclear power plant and give advice to victims who evacuated to locations outside Fukushima Prefecture and tend to be isolated. “I want to give back to the community. We need to support each other.”

Mitsuharu Yatsuda, 70
1. Futaba (4 km)
2. Farmer, member of town council
3. Because of his experience as a worker at the nuclear power plant, at meetings of the town council he repeatedly asked for enhanced safety measures at the plant. “The town believed in the ‘safety’ that TEPCO talked about and was betrayed.”

Masao Akimoto, 71
1. Okuma (3.5 km)
2. Manager of fishing supply store, head of town children’s council
3. He is former chief of the regional firefighters’ association for the Futaba area. “TEPCO has always had a low awareness of disaster prevention. I often got into arguments with them.”

Takeshi Ouchi, 62
1. Okuma (1.5 km)
2. Farmer, head of local administrative district
3. He is a former municipal employee. He offers advice to town residents who have evacuated to Aizu Wakamatsu. “Why won’t they let residents within the 3-km zone make brief visits to their homes? The government must offer an explanation we can accept.”

Ayaka Oga, 38
1. Okuma (8 km)
2. Part-time worker
3. She had been calling for the reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to be shut down even before the accident. She is worried about internal exposure to radiation, and a local citizens’ group she belongs to is investigating the amount of radiation in breast milk.

Machiko Kikuchi, 59
1. Okuma (8 km)
2. Part-time worker
3. When she worked at a banquet hall affiliated with TEPCO, reservations were cancelled whenever there was a problem at a nuclear power plant. “I want TEPCO employees to live at evacuation centers like us and experience the same suffering.”

Makoto Sato, 64
1. Okuma (4 km)
2. Straw mat manufacturing
3. His son works at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Niigata Prefecture. He expressed mixed feelings about nuclear power. “I have consistently opposed it, but thanks to nuclear power my son has a job.”

Shuei Shiga, 69
1. Okuma (1.5 km)
2. Head of local agricultural cooperative
3. He has not been able to return to his home since the accident at the nuclear power plant. He has called on the national and prefectural governments to take note of the heartbreaking situations of the farmers who have lost their farms. He has vowed to return to his home no matter how many years it takes.

Yoshiko Suganami, 40
1. Okuma (4 km)
2. Judicial scrivener
3. She evacuated to the City of Fukushima where she is assisting the prefectural judicial scriveners association in providing free advice. She is interested in Hiroshima’s recovery from the atomic bombing and said she would like to hear from experts in Hiroshima.

Minoru Yoshida, 63
1. Okuma (4 km)
2. Former electrical company worker
3. At the time of the earthquake he was working at the No. 4 unit at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. “Before the accident I was in favor of nuclear power, but now I’m neither for nor against it.” He also serves as chief of the local fire company.

Nobuyuki Watanabe, 58
1. Okuma (1.5 km)
2. Chairman of construction company
3. He formerly served as chair of the town council’s ad hoc committee on nuclear power safety measures. “It was a mistake to believe in the myth of the safety of nuclear power. I want to share the lessons we’ve learned from this accident with the regions throughout Japan where nuclear power plants are located.”

Osamu Ando, 62
1. Tomioka (8 km)
2. Prefectural contract worker
3. As chief of the local fire company he assisted in the evacuation of town residents. “TEPCO’s statements are all a lot of baloney.” His son, who is a member of the fire company, assisted in the search for missing residents.

Toshiro Kitamura, 66
1. Tomioka (7 km)
2. Counselor, Japan Atomic Industrial Forum
3. He works for an incorporated association that comprises nuclear power-related manufacturers, power companies and other companies. He moved to Tomioka from the Tokyo area about 10 years ago because he liked the mild climate.

Tomoyuki Seki, 65
1. Tomioka (8 km)
2. Farmer
3. He became a member of the town council at the age of 39 and over the years has opposed pluthermal power and supported the effort to abandon nuclear power. “I knew that the nuclear power plant couldn’t cope with a combination of accidents, so it’s all the more unfortunate.”

Misao Sekine, 62
1. Tomioka (6 km)
2. Retired
3. He conducted inspections and did other work at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and other facilities for about 40 years. “I was told repeatedly that nuclear power was absolutely safe. I was in favor of it. Then this happened.” He is now opposed.

Kimio Akimoto, 63
1. Kawauchi (22 km)
2. Head of regional forestry cooperative
3. About one month after the accident he set up a temporary office in the neighboring city of Tamura. “It’s possible we will no longer be able to sustain the forestry business in a large area of the Futaba region. I’m worried about the devastation of the forests.”

Yoshitoyo Sakuma, 29
1. Kawauchi (22 km)
2. Unemployed
3. As a result of the accident at the nuclear power plant, business at the car repair shop where he worked declined and he was laid off. When he was in high school he toured the Fukushima No. 1 power plant and was told it could withstand a major earthquake.

Chido Sakuma, 29
1. Naraha (16 km)
2. Buddhist priest
3. He initially evacuated to the Tokyo area, where he was disturbed by the prejudice he encountered against people from Fukushima Prefecture. He is also dissatisfied with the government’s response to residents’ inquiries about temporary housing and brief visits to their homes.

Kazuhiro Matsumoto, 41
1. Naraha (18 km)
2. Company employee
3. His newly built home was partly destroyed by the tsunami, and he still owes money on the loan. Operations at his company are still suspended. “Radiation is really scary, but if you worry about it too much you can’t live anywhere.”

Rie Abe, 40
1. Hirono (23 km)
2. Housewife
3. She is afraid of internal exposure to radiation. She told her 9-year-old son, who plays baseball, not to breathe in the dust when he slides.

Kazumasa Komatsu, 42
1. Hirono (22 km)
2. Municipal employee
3. With regard to TEPCO, which operates a thermal power plant in the town, he said, “Up until now TEPCO has created jobs and contributed to the revitalization of the area, but I’m angry about the way they have handled this accident.”

(Originally published on June 16, 2011)