12 March 2014

Photo Credit: Hozefa Merchant


As you land in Tokyo, you cannot help but notice the amount of electricity the city consumes. And just as the neon lights and LED covered buildings shouts out feats of economic and technological achievements, you wonder whether these aesthetics are purposefully placed to hide reality. But culturally too, the Japanese are not really known to cry over the spilt milk. They are known to bury in their feelings of sorrow and loss. Smile when they are sad and move on. So maybe the lights of Tokyo are meant to hide things that are too ugly to confront.

But this time confrontation was necessary as it wasn't just a case of spilt milk. It was a nuclear accident that contaminated life as far as 60km from the nuclear reactor.

And yes, it did lead to spilling of milk too.

Mr. Kenichi Hasegawa owned a dairy in Iitate city, about 60km from Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. He was forced to kill 60 cows as well as was forced to evacuate the city. Mr. Hasegawa lived with 4 generations of his family. Like Mr. Hasegawa, other dairy owners were forced to dig earth and pour in thousands of litres of radioactive milk. They also had to kill their livestock.

The farmers had to destroy their vegetables and fruits. They also had to destroy thousands of logs of exotic Shiitake mushrooms. They had to leave their home and were forced to uproot the lives of their children. One such example is the family of Ms. Tatsuko Ogawara.

While in Fukushima, we met one such victim who was torn between her duties as a mother and her moral obligation to fight for her rights. For me, I could relate to her partly. Having seen the impacts of Bhopal rather closely, I can understand why she feels the need to protest. An injustice like that can tear a family apart. Minako Sugano, a mother of three and former Kindergarten teacher, used to live in Ryozen, Date City. When her city was designated as a mandatory evacuation zone, she still had faith in the government. She expected an explanation which never came. Instead, the annual acceptable doze levels in Japan were raised from 1mSv to 20mSv.

When we met the Ex-Futaba Mayor Mr. Katsutaka Idogawa, he said he felt responsible for the damage done to his town. The city of Futaba was the worst affected as it was located right next to Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. He said, "I inherited the city from my grandparents, it was my duty to pass it to my grand children, and I've failed". He further said, "We are like a forgotten people, who cannot be seen. Wasted people. We are treated without regard". He asked us to tell his story to the world and he promised us that as long as he can, he will travel around the world talking about the dangers of nuclear energy.

More than 160,000 people were forced to abandon their house. It has been reported that more people died due to evacuation related stress as compared to the number of people who died due to the earthquake and tsunami in that region. None of them know when they will be able to return and pick up from where they left.

Find out more about their stories here:


Fukushima nuclear accident forced the people of Japan to break their cultural norm of obedience to authority. They were forced to question and protest for their rights that were sold off in the name of profits and unsustainable development. They were forced to stand outside their parliament and scream out loud, 'Genpatsu Hantai'.

Youtube video – Genpatsu Hantai. http://youtu.be/uAdFAKy3TFk

Hozefa Merchant is a nuclear energy campaigner with Greenpeace India