The Fukushima black box
A dangerous lack of urgency in drawing lessons from Japan’s nuclear disaster
There is a breathtaking serenity to the valley that winds from the town of Namie, on the
coast of Fukushima prefecture, into the hills above.
A narrow road runs by a river that passes through steep ravines, studded with maples.
Lovely it may be, but it is the last place where you would want to see an exodus of 8,000 people fleeing meltdowns at a nearby nuclear power plant.
Along that switchback road the day after the earthquake and tsunami on March 11th 2011,
it took Namie’s residents more than three hours to drive 30km (19 miles) to what they thought was the relative safety of Tsushima, a secluded
What they did not know was that they were heading into an invisible fog of radioactive matter that has made this one of the worst radiation hotspots
in Japan—far worse than the town they abandoned, just ten minutes drive from the gates of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.
It was not until a New York Times report in August that many of the evacuees realized
they had been exposed to such a danger, thanks to government neglect.
Mizue Kanno visits her home in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture on Oct. 1 to clean up.
She must wear a double-layered mask and carry a dosimeter. (Jun Kaneko)
Here is one such story, excerpted in part here.
Tsushima district in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, is located in the mountains approximately 30 kilometers northwest of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear
power plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO).
On March 12, the day after the nuclear accident, 10,000 people fled to the Tsushima District from the coastal area that lies within a 10-km radius of
the nuclear power plant.
Residents took people into their homes, since there was not enough room at the elementary and junior high schools, community centers and temples.
One after another, people began arriving at Mizue Kanno’s home throughout the day.
By evening, 25 people had gathered. Although many were relatives and acquaintances,
there were also strangers among them...
'I don’t know what happened at the nuclear power station, but if we evacuate this far,
then we should be OK.'
Everyone looked relieved for the moment...
Kanno, 59, cooked two pressure cookers full of rice and made an evening meal of rice balls and miso soup with pork and vegetables. People who fled
with only the clothes on their backs assembled in the large room and began eating.
The pressure cooker Mizue Kanno used to make rice (Jun Kaneko)
Following dinner, everyone introduced themselves and formed rules for living together:
* To prevent the toilet from getting clogged, toilet paper should be thrown away in the cardboard box placed next to the toilet.
* Everyone should help cook and serve meals.
* Do not hesitate to be open with one another.
The people split into groups and slept in two rooms. Kanno handed out all the futons she had.
Then, Kanno stepped outside, where she noticed a white van that had stopped in front of her house. Inside were two men wearing white protective
clothing. They turned toward her and shouted, but she couldn’t make out what they were saying.
'What? What’s the problem?'
Why are you here? Please, get away from here!'
Kanno was shocked.
'Flee? But this is an evacuation shelter!
The two men got out of the car. Both were wearing gas masks.
'Radioactive materials are spreading!'
Kanno told others who had sought shelter in a nearby house about the men in protective clothing.
One laughed saying,
'I worked at TEPCO. The nuclear power plant we built could never be that dangerous.'
[color=7FFF00]At that time, readings at locations approximately 10 km from the Tsushima district using instruments measuring up to 30 microsieverts
per hour were going off the meter
[color=Cyan]As of 2003, Namie had an estimated population of 22,068 and was not searched for bodies until more than one month
Namie, Fukushima, Japan
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