In Minamisoma City, the group visited a café designed as a place for parents and children to gather.

From the Ship

Pacific Peace Forum participants visit Fukushima and dialogue with local community activists

Apr 6, 2016

After three intense weeks onboard the 90th Peace Boat Global Voyage, the Pacific Peace Forum participants arrived in Japan on March 30. Once ashore, Michel Arakino from French Polynesia, Brooke Takala Abraham and Desmond Doulatram from the Marshall Islands, and Sato Kenta from Iitate Village in Fukushima, visited the Daigo Fukuryumaru Exhibition Hall in Tokyo and various locations in Fukushima Prefecture. Over four days they held meetings with representatives of the civil society and participated in various events.

On the first day in Tokyo, the group visited the museum where the Daigo Fukuryumaru, or the Lucky Dragon 5, is displayed. This was a Japanese tuna fishing boat with a crew of 23 men, which was exposed to, and contaminated by, nuclear fallout from the United States' Castle Bravo thermonuclear device test on Bikini Atoll on March 1, 1954. At the Exhibition Hall, the delegation were guided by staff member Hasunuma Yusuke as well as a Hibakusha from Hiroshima, Mori Sadashi, who accompanied them during the visit. "Over the past 17 days we have seen that despite the differences, we have many things in common. The history of this ship is an example of one of these connections that not everyone knows", said Takala Abraham during the visit.

The next day, the group began its journey through Fukushima Prefecture. The first stop was in Naraha, a small town on the coast where the four-reactor TEPCO Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Plant is located, and just south of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, 20 kilometres away. The majority of the town, including all residential areas, was evacuated, however the order was lifted in September 2015. Since then, only several hundred of the original 7,700 residents have returned. The group had lunch in a temporary shopping arcade with several restaurants where people who handle the decontamination work in the area go to have lunch. After the meal, the group drove through coastal areas close to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, including Tomioka, Okuma and Futaba. These three towns were greatly affected by both the tsunami and nuclear disaster, and remain in evacuation five years later. The group brought radiation measuring devices, and could see in person that the radiation levels are still very high. 

  The second stop in the area was in Namie, a town designated as a "difficult to return zone". The group visited an area very close to the ocean where the effects of the tsunami are still very present. These coastal areas were badly affected by the tsunami, but due to the nuclear disaster, police and fire-fighters had to abandon search and rescue efforts. Then the group walked around the town centre, which is still evacuated today. Local residents are allowed to access the area in the daytime to conduct work and other activities, but are forbidden from staying overnight. Namie is still in many ways a ghost town, where much work is still needed to return everything to as it was before the disaster. The village had a population of 21,000 at the time of the accident and according to some local surveys, less than 20% of evacuated residents now want to return to their homes. According to the Red Cross, more than 300,000 people living near the Fukushima plant had to leave their homes after the tragedy.

The next stop was the Ranch of Hope, a cattle ranch in the same village. There lives Yoshizawa Masami, a 62-year-old farmer who defied government evacuation and slaughter orders to return to his ranch 14 kilometres from the nuclear plant. His goal is to keep his cattle alive as living proof of the disaster. He has became a vocal protestor about the effects of the nuclear tragedy, and explained his experience to the visitors. "These cows are living testimony to the human folly in Fukushima. The government wanted to kill them because it wanted to erase what happened here", he said. Ten of the cows have developed small white spots on their heads and flanks that he thinks are a result of exposure to radiation.

To finish the day, the delegation visited a local community space, the 37 Cafe, in Minamisoma City. This coastal city is located 10 to 40 kilometres north of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The cafe opened in November 2014 to support local families. It offers a place to eat and drink, including sufficient indoor, safe play areas for children. The space is designed as a place to meet other parents and children, to release the stress and worry from parenting in the disaster affected region, and to learn through various discussions and workshops. According to local community leader Takahashi Mikako, it aims to be a place where people of all generations can meet. "Five years after the tragedy, we still face many challenges. It is important to have places like this where we can meet and talk about the future", she said to the group. After seeing so much destruction, this place was a good contrast. "I liked to see that despite all the difficulties these people face, there is room for hope and optimism", Arakino commented.

On the third day of the visit, the international group went to Iitate, the village where Sato Kenta was born, around 40 kilometres northwest of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Despite being outside the initial radiation exclusion zone, due to extremely high radiation levels as a result of the radioactive plume carried by the wind, the village was evacuated by the Japanese authorities. It took one month for the evacuation order to be made, meaning many residents were exposed to high doses of radiation during this time. 6,200 people were living there before the disaster. Once there, the group met Ito Nobuyoshi. Ito had moved to the beautiful Iitate from the city to start a new life surrounded by nature. But the nuclear disaster destroyed those dreams, just one year later. Now, he is living in evacuation in Fukushima City and commuting to his workplace, Iitate Farm. Since the disaster he has been assisting various researchers in determining the effects of radiation. "The government is promoting the repatriation of villagers through decontamination of radioactive materials. But there is no decontamination in the forest areas, which cover 75 % of the town", he explained. Today, the decontamination works continue in Iitate. Thousands of workers are cleaning the area and collecting the contaminated soil. Tens of thousands of giant plastic bags are part of the landscape and there is as yet no plan for disposal or remediation. Radiation levels remain abnormal.

Since April 2014, the government has been gradually lifting evacuation orders in the area. In spite of the effort of each municipality, not many people are willing to return to their homes soon because of concerns about radiation effects to their health, inconvenience caused by the lack of infrastructure and other problems. However, the government is planning to lift evacuation orders to all the evacuation areas except "difficult-to-return areas" by spring 2017. Housing assistance for evacuees is also terminated as evacuation orders are lifted, and compensation for psychological damage to evacuees from evacuation zones other than the "difficult-to-return" zones will end one year later. Behind the governmentfs push to force the return of citizens to Fukushima to this point lies the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. "By then, they want to give the impression that the recovery is complete", added Sato, who accompanied the group to the his family home, where he lived with three generations before the nuclear accident.

The last stop in the prefecture was in the capital, Fukushima City, just over 60 kilometres northwest of the power plant. Although outside the nuclear accident exclusion zone, the levels of radiation in some parts of the city are high and the nuclear disaster impacted the lives of residents. The group participated in an event in a local cafe and community centre called Channel Square. This centre has an indoor playground for children, providing somewhere for children to nurture their balance and sporting skills while they are not able to explore outside in the natural environment. In the cafe, a dialogue event was held in which the international guests talked about the Pacific Peace Forum and all the new things they learned and shared onboard Peace Boat. They were joined by three local speakers from the area: Shima Akemi, Takahashi Keiko and Nemoto Hitoshi, all of whom also shared their experiences and different points of views.

On the last day of the tour, the group returned to Tokyo and participated in a public symposium in Tokyo University, co-sponsored by the university's Human Security Programme. The international guests talked about the forum, the past and the present, and future challenges in front of a large audience. As Doulatram summed up, "maybe the history of Fukushima, the Marshall Islands and French Polynesia is very different. But our discussions in the last three weeks show that the impact of the nuclear disasters on health, the environment and on society bear strong similarities. We need to spread the word before something similar happens again", he pointed out to close the session and the programme.

A series of videos following the delegation in Fukushima can also be seen online here, made by the independent media