When Mayor Katsutaka Idogawa of Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, held a news conference on April 1, a reporter asked: "Mr. Mayor, you are staying at an evacuation center. Are all your family with you?"
After a moment of silence, the mayor replied, "I have one family member at a nuclear power plant."
The reporter's eyes lit up in surprise. "Mr. Mayor, do you mean the Fukushima No. 1 plant?"
"Yes," Idogawa said. "I have a son working for Tokyo Electric Power Co."
The mayor did not elaborate. But I could sense what must have been going on in his mind: "I'm not the only one suffering."
In the town of Futaba, where the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant sits, many residents have been working for TEPCO, its affiliates or subcontractors. Their number is said to be anywhere between 40 percent and 70 percent of the town's total population of about 6,900.
A 44-year-old employee of a TEPCO affiliate is staying with his parents at the former Kisai Senior High School in Kazo, Saitama Prefecture, where about 1,400 evacuees are being sheltered and the Futaba government has moved its base of operations.
When the Great East Japan Earthquake struck on March 11, the man was inside the Fukushima No. 1 plant. Fighting panic, he fled to higher ground on the plant's premises, from where he saw a rushing wall of tsunami water more than 10 meters high. He is out of harm's way now, but he has been asked by the company to return to the plant for restoration work in due time.
"To tell you the truth, I'm terrified of radiation," he told me. "I don't want to go back. But then, I have my buddies who are at the plant even as we speak. They are praying for the arrival of a relief team. I've got to go and relieve them. And I also want to contribute to my town's recovery from the disaster."
I was in my third week of reporting from Futaba. My heart continues to ache for people who are yearning deeply to return to their hometown but can't even go near it.
Initially, everyone told me they wanted to go home as soon as possible. But as the nuclear crisis dragged on, I stopped hearing that from anyone.
It now appears it will be years, not months, before they can head home. Lately, they have been hearing more about Chernobyl, and how a vast area around the plant is still off-limits even 25 years after the meltdown disaster.
Many people who have fled from the Fukushima No. 1 plant's vicinity have begun to say, "We may never go home again."
Obviously, everyone is feeling down. But this does not necessarily mean they are totally despondent. No matter how dark the night, the sun always rises the following morning. More than one month after the disaster, they have learned to accept the cruel reality and are resolved to move on. I sense the strength and courage inherent in human nature.
What these people want is plain, straightforward information. What is the extent of radiation pollution? In the worst-case scenario imaginable at present, how long will it take for their town to be habitable again?
There is no need whatsoever for authorities to "consider" the feelings of evacuees and be selective in releasing information. The unvarnished truth is all they want, so that they can plan their new lives.
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Seiji Kanda is a senior staff writer of The Asahi Shimbun.
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