Posted on April 18, 2011.
By Ayako Oga
I lived in Okuma-machi, a hamlet in Fukushima prefecture, which is just 6 kilometers from the now crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. It was a beautiful and quiet area with a close knit community that was a mix of both young and old people. Naturally, all our lives have changed drastically after the huge earthquake hit on March 11. The most difficult thing to comprehend and accept is the high radiation contamination in our area that has made it starkly clear to me that I will never be able to return home. It’s also difficult because we had just built a new home and I was buying new curtains and plants for the garden when this tragedy struck. My husband and I are still assessing the situation while we now live with my parents in Tokyo.
The hardest and most painful aspect of this nuclear catastrophe is that I moved away from the big city to live in Okuma-machi where we believed life in the countryside was the better choice compared to the stress faced in Tokyo. I had friends in Okuma-machi and so my husband and I decided to settle down there. My husband worked in the local post office and I spent time cultivating vegetables in a small rental plot of land and volunteered in an organic café. The older farming population in the neighbourhood was very kind to me. The only thing that bothered me was the nuclear plant that operated close by and I would get together with my friends in the evenings to discuss among us the worries we had over the possibility of an accident. Most other residents seemed to accept the power plant because they believed the officials who had told them that safety standards by the company, Tokyo Electric Company, were impeccable. I was not one of the believers and the others knew it. But in typical Japanese style, we did not create friction between us over this issue. The stark reality was also that the nuclear plant provided employment to the locals who needed the jobs as farming was not a lucrative way of life in Ookuma-machi. In addition, Fukushima was extended financial subsidies for the development of the local towns and villages and with the appearance of good roads, school buildings and other infrastructure, and the residents were happy about the progress. Thus, for the few skeptics like myself, we faced a hostile atmosphere if we tried to raise awareness through protests or the discussions issues over the danger posed by the nuclear plant. A few feeble attempts on y part, were met with stony silence. It was easier to keep quiet as a result.
Now that the worst has happened, there are two issues on my mind. First it is my concern for Okuma-machi and the local community. What will happen to friends and neighbours who have lived there for decades, Its going to be very hard for them to start life again in a new place within a new community. I also do not want Japan to support nuclear energy ever again. I am hoping feverishly that today, as we struggle with containing the damage to four nuclear reactors, the bitter truth is that Japan must give-up its nuclear power aspirations.