At the Three-Month Point: Doubts About the Future

Three months after the nuclear disaster struck Fukushima Prefecture, residents of areas near the crippled nuclear power station remain evacuees. Fuke Yasunobu, managing director of Fukushima Broadcasting, says that the time has come to seriously ponder the challenges the prefecture faces as it travels the steep road toward recovery.

Three months after the nuclear disaster struck Fukushima Prefecture, residents of areas near the crippled nuclear power station remain evacuees. Fuke Yasunobu, managing director of Fukushima Broadcasting, says that the time has come to seriously ponder the challenges the prefecture faces as it travels the steep road toward recovery.

June 11 marked the three-month anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that struck the Tōhoku region of Japan and caused a nuclear disaster in Fukushima Prefecture. The television stations here, including the Fukushima Broadcasting Company, where I work, all broadcast special programs to mark the anniversary. I ended up spending most of the day in front of the TV watching these shows myself, partly because my job required it. 

It was depressing to watch one report aired that day on the hardships endured by a dairy farmer in the village of Iitate, who was forced to evacuate from his home and farm in late May when it was designated part of the planned evacuation zone. The farmer had no choice but to accept the slaughter of the dozen or so milk cows he had cared for with such devotion and that had provided his living. Tears welled up in the man’s eyes as the truck arrived to take the animals away, and he said in a strained voice: “Why do I have to endure this misery?” My eyes grew moist too at the thought of this man’s sorrow.

Mayors Performing Admirably in the Face of Disaster

Since the March 11 disaster, I have paid special attention to the behavior and comments of the mayors of municipalities located near the disaster-struck Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). In particular I have noted their capacity to make decisions and take action, along with the clarity of the statements they make. When they appear on TV, the mayors always look quite distressed, and their voices attest to how exhausted they are, but despite this they are taking action in a timely manner, and their statements are free of vagueness. There is none of the feigned anger one sees among legislators when posing questions during Diet committee sessions. Nor do the mayors make the sort of meaningless declarations of resolve that are so common among government ministers when answering questions in the Diet or giving press conferences.

This difference in the way mayors in Fukushima are comporting themselves may reflect the fact that they are in direct contact with the local residents who have had to deal with a sense of bewilderment, anxiety, and despair that comes from being forced to leave their homes and communities and losing their jobs. It may also involve the sense of confidence in themselves that the mayors get from having their feet firmly planted on the ground. These leaders speak with restraint and emanate a sense of presence. This is something that again came to my attention while watching the special June 11 programs broadcast on the four local TV stations.

Will “Normality” Ever Return?

At the same time, I can’t help wondering what the future holds for the municipalities led by those mayors.

It does not seem likely that TEPCO will meet the timetable it set for bringing the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station under control by next January, at least judging from its faltering steps up to now. Even if the nuclear reactors do not spin further out of control, we should probably anticipate further delays in completing the planned work. And even assuming the reactors can eventually brought into a state of cold shutdown, that alone will not make it possible for local residents to return to their homes. The radioactivity levels of soil in the environs of the nuclear power station are much higher than in places like Fukushima City, Kōriyama, or even the village of Iitate. At this point it is hard to imagine a return any time soon to the normality that existed prior to March 11.

Meanwhile, even though radiation levels in Fukushima City and Kōriyama are lower than in the areas around the nuclear plant, concerns about the impact on children’s health have led to the measure of removing the surface layer of soil from schoolyards. Even on hot days many residents of the two cities can be seen wearing protective masks, hats, and long-sleeved shirts so as to minimize their exposure to the air outside. How many more years will it take, I wonder, before such precautions will be adequate to allow people to again inhabit the towns near the nuclear power station? And how many more years will have to elapse before people can again grow rice and vegetables there? I also wonder what percentage of the former residents, now scattered throughout Japan, will decide to return to their former communities. And how, in the meantime, will it be possible to maintain the basic functions of the municipal governments and assemblies? How can mayors and assembly members be elected in a situation where some evacuated residents’ whereabouts cannot be determined? And so on . . .

One possible approach might be for some of these municipalities to be merged into Fukushima City, while at least retaining their respective names as “towns” or “villages” within the city. In any event, though, it will be difficult for these communities to ever return to their pre–March 11 situations. 

These are the sort of things I was thinking about while viewing the TV programs about the situation in Fukushima Prefecture three months after the nuclear disaster began to unfold. (Written on June 12, 2011.)

In This Series
Grief and Anger in Fukushima
At the Three-Month Point: Doubts About the Future (June 12)
No More Complacent PR: Time for Concrete Reconstruction (May 21)
False Rumors Not the True Culprit (April 30)
Try to Imagine the Evacuees’ Anxiety (April 15)

Fuke Yasunobu

Born in Kagawa Prefecture in 1949. Graduated from Kagawa University, where he majored in economics. Joined Asahi Shimbun Co. in 1974 and worked as a political reporter at its Tokyo Head Office. Experienced the 1995 Kobe earthquake while working at the newspaper’s Osaka Head Office. Served as chief editor of the Seibu Head Office. Joined Fukushima Broadcasting Co. and became its managing director in June 2009.