I’m back in the radioactively contaminated areas around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, for the 4th time since the nuclear disaster in March 2011. Once again it’s surreal.
I’ve measured radiation levels that are clearly too high . I’ve had lunch in between contaminated hills, an electronic sign next to the road shows radiation levels instead of the speed of cars.
I came here with16 Greenpeace radiation experts to check radiation in the Tamura City region last week. The government says it has decontaminated some of this area and plans to lift the evacuation order for a part of Tamura; it would be the first community re-opened since the disaster.
Life goes on in Fukushima Prefecture. Mothers bring their children to school, a grandmother works in her garden, and parents go to work.
But something is off. Some people grow flowers in their gardens since they cannot eat home-grown vegetables. Mothers tell their children not to play with the sand, afraid the radioactive caesium, present everywhere, might harm their health. Men in blue suits, wearing protection masks, are filling up large black bags as part of the effort to decontaminate areas where radiation levels are too high.
Driving through the area, we see those big black bags literally everywhere.
Thousands and thousands of black bags with radioactive waste are spread throughout the landscape. Plants have started to overgrow some of them. How will the authorities keep track of the radioactive waste? How will these bags survive the change of seasons?
We see a large pile of black bags next to a kindergarten. Why on earth would someone decide to establish a radioactive dumpsite where children are playing every day?
An elderly couple tells us they have returned to their house in the 20km evacuation zone after having been evacuated 2.5 years ago, but their three-year-old great grandchild and her mother are still living in an area that is less contaminated. They worry if it is safe for their great grandchild to visit them.
A woman used to harvest a lot of fruits from her orchard and sell them. Her house was decontaminated; her orchard was not. The authorities say they cannot do that, because the orchard is ‘out of category’ – it does not fit in any of the categories defined in the decontamination plan.
A proud man has built a new house next to his original, contaminated house that has been in his family for centuries. But the government does not provide any compensation for the costs of building a clean house.
When a couple returned to their house two years after their hasty evacuation, the house was partially destroyed due to leaks caused by the 2011 earthquake. The costs of repairs are high, but it is difficult to get compensation for those costs.
A man, who likes to plant new trees in the forest land that he owns, does not do that anymore because of the high radiation levels in the forest. The man hopes the government will decontaminate his forest, but this is almost impossible.
Surreal. The Japanese government wants to pretend everything will be back to normal after decontamination, but it’s not that simple. Suffering in Fukushima continues, largely invisible to the rest of the world. People are struggling, not able to return to their normal lives.
When will the Japanese government stop protecting the profits of the nuclear industry and instead make protecting people its priority?
Dr. Rianne Teule is a radiation expert with Greenpeace International