In Fukushima, Olympic torch relay faces cool welcome from nuclear evacuees


FUTABA, Japan (Information) – Wearing protecting plastic coveralls and white booties, Yuji Onuma stood in entrance of the row of derelict buildings that included his home, and sighed as he surveyed his previous neighborhood.

Yuji Onuma, an evacuee from Futaba City close to tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy plant, walks subsequent to a collapsed store on the road in Futaba City, contained in the exclusion zone across the plant, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan February 20, 2020. Information/Issei Kato

On the once-bustling predominant road, reddish weeds poked out of cracked pavements in entrance of deserted retailers with caved-in partitions and crumbling roofs. Close by, 1000’s of black plastic baggage stuffed with irradiated soil had been stacked in a former rice discipline.

“It’s like visiting a graveyard,” he stated.

Onuma, 43, was again in his hometown of Futaba to examine on his home, lower than four kilometers from the Fukushima nuclear energy plant, which suffered a triple meltdown in 2011 following an earthquake and tsunami, leaking radiation throughout the area.

The authorities say it will likely be two extra years earlier than evacuees can reside right here once more, an eternity for individuals who have been in non permanent housing for 9 years. However given the lingering radiation right here, Onuma says he has determined to not transfer again together with his spouse and two younger sons.

Most of his neighbors have moved on, abandoning their homes and renting smaller residences in close by cities or settling elsewhere in Japan.

Given the issues Futaba nonetheless faces, many evacuees are chafing over the federal government’s efforts to showcase the city as a shining instance of Fukushima’s reconstruction for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Whereas there was hypothesis that the worldwide unfold of the coronavirus that emerged in China final month may drive the cancellation of the Olympics, Japanese officers have stated they’re assured the Video games will go forward.

The Olympic torch relay will happen in Fukushima in late March – though probably in shortened type because of the coronavirus, Olympic organizers say – and can move via Futaba. In preparation, development crews have been laborious at work repairing streets and decontaminating the middle of city.

“I want they wouldn’t maintain the relay right here,” stated Onuma. He pointed to employees repaving the highway outdoors the prepare station, the place the torch runners are more likely to move. “Their primary intention is to point out individuals how a lot we’ve recovered.”

He stated he hoped that the torch relay would additionally move via the overgrown and ghostly elements of the city, to convey every little thing that the 7,100 residents uprooted of Futaba misplaced because of the accident.

“I don’t suppose individuals will perceive something by simply seeing cleaned-up tracts of land.”


In 2013, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was pitching Tokyo because the host of the 2020 Video games to Worldwide Olympic Committee members, he declared that the state of affairs on the Fukushima nuclear plant was “beneath management”.

The Video games have been billed because the “Reconstruction Olympics” – a chance to laud Japan’s huge effort to rebuild the nation’s northeastern area, ravaged by the earthquake and tsunami, in addition to the meltdowns on the nuclear plant owned by Tokyo Electrical Energy Co.

After the catastrophe, the federal government created a brand new ministry to deal with reconstruction efforts and pledged 32 trillion yen ($286.eight billion) in funding to rebuild affected areas.

Indicators of the reconstruction efforts are in all places close to the plant: new roads have been constructed, condominium blocks for evacuee households have sprouted up, and an imposing tsunami wall now runs alongside the shoreline. A military of employees commutes to the wrecked plant daily to decommission the reactors.

In March, simply days earlier than the Olympic relay is scheduled to be held throughout Fukushima, Japan will partially ease a restriction order for Futaba, the final city that is still off-limits for residents to return.

Which means residents like Onuma will be capable to freely come and go from the city with out passing via safety or becoming protecting clothes. Evacuees will nonetheless not be capable to keep of their houses in a single day.

After a couple of years bouncing between relations’ houses and non permanent residences, Onuma determined to construct a brand new home in Ibaraki, a close-by prefecture. His two sons are already enrolled in kindergarten and first faculty there.

“You are feeling a way of despair,” stated Onuma. “Our entire life was right here and we had been nearly to begin our new life with our youngsters.”

When Onuma was 12, he gained an area competitors to provide you with a catchphrase selling atomic vitality. His phrases, “Nuclear Power for a Brighter Future” was painted on an arch that welcomed guests to Futaba.

After the nuclear meltdowns, the signal was eliminated towards Onuma’s objections.

“It seems like they’re whitewashing the historical past of this city,” stated Onuma, who now installs photo voltaic panels for a dwelling.

The organizing committee for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics didn’t reply to requests for remark from Information.


Different residents and neighborhood leaders in close by cities say the Olympics could have really hindered the area’s restoration.

Yasushi Niitsuma, a 60-year-old restaurant proprietor in Namie, stated the Olympics stalled native reconstruction tasks due to surging demand and prices to safe employees and supplies forward of the video games in Tokyo.

“We have to wait two years, three years to have a home constructed due to the dearth of craftsmen,” stated Niitsuma. “We’re being placed on the again burner.”

Fukushima’s agriculture and fisheries industries have additionally been devastated.

“I used to be astonished by the “beneath management” remark made in a pitch to win the Olympic Video games,” stated Takayuki Yanai, who directs a fisheries co-op in Iwaki, 50 kilometers south of the nuclear plant, referring to Abe’s assertion.

“Folks in Fukushima have the impression that reconstruction was used as a bait to win the Olympic Video games.”

A authorities panel lately really helpful discharging contaminated water held on the Fukushima plant to the ocean, which Yanai expects to additional damage what stays of the realm’s fisheries trade.

At a latest information convention, Reconstruction Minister Kazunori Tanaka responded to a query from Information about criticism from Fukushima evacuees.

“We’ll work along with related prefectures, municipalities and varied organizations so that folks within the area can take a constructive view,” he stated, referring to the Olympics.

Native officers additionally say they’re making progress for the return of residents to Futaba.

“Not like Chernobyl, we’re aiming to return and reside there,” Futaba Mayor Shirou Izawa stated in an interview, calling the partial lifting of the evacuation order an indication of “main progress”.

There have been numerous misunderstandings concerning the radiation ranges within the city, together with the security of produce and fish from Fukushima, Izawa stated.

“It will be nice if such misunderstanding is dispelled even a bit of bit,” he stated.

Radiation readings within the air taken in February close to Futaba’s prepare station had been round zero.28 microsieverts per hour, nonetheless roughly eight occasions the measurement taken on the identical day in central Tokyo.

One other space in Futaba had a studying of four.64 microsieverts per hour on the identical day, that means an individual would attain the annual publicity higher restrict of 1 millisievert, really helpful by the Worldwide Fee on Radiological Safety, in simply 9 days.

Regardless of the official assurances, it’s laborious to overlook the indicators of devastation and decay round city.

The block the place Takahisa Ogawa’s home as soon as stood is now only a row of overgrown heaps, plagued by concrete particles. A small statue of a stone frog is all that is still of his backyard, which can also be scattered with wild boar droppings.

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He lastly demolished his home final yr after he didn’t persuade his spouse and two sons to return to reside in Futaba.

Ogawa doubts any of his childhood pals and neighbors would ever return to the city.

“I’ve handed the stage the place I’m offended and I’m resigned,” he stated.

Reporting by Mari Saito and Kiyoshi Takenaka; Writing by Mari Saito; Enhancing by Philip McClellan