This is the last installment of an eight-part series looking at the fate and experiences of Mizue Kanno in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, and 25 people who evacuated to her home, following the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Each installment is interconnected.
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The 25 people who sought shelter at Mizue Kanno's home all evacuated a second time after learning about the warning by the "men wearing white protective clothing" and because of Kanno's judgment. They were able to flee a dangerous situation.
It was a time of emergency, when the residents could have suffered from the accidental release of a large quantity of radioactive materials from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
However, neither the government nor Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the plant operator, provided the residents with information.
The 25 people, however, acted calmly and without panicking.
Kanno now lives in temporary housing in the town of Koori near Fukushima city.
"Look here," said Kanno, pointing to children playing in a vacant lot.
"Those small children have to endure the difficulties of life as evacuees from now on. If they had been exposed to radiation …"
But Kanno still wonders who those men in white protective clothing were.
At that time, vehicles were driving throughout Fukushima Prefecture to take radioactive readings. They had been dispatched from entities such as the science ministry, the Fukushima prefectural government, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, TEPCO and Tohoku Electric Power Co.
There were even workers sent from Niigata Prefecture. Their vehicle was passing through the Tsushima district right around the time Kanno saw the two men on the evening of March 12.
The two staffers from Niigata Prefecture had gotten in a van and driven to Fukushima Prefecture to help deal with the nuclear accident. Driving on national road No. 114 in Namie, they passed through the Tsushima district. Around 4 p.m., they were stopped by police in the Kawabusa district and turned back.
In an interview with The Asahi Shimbun, they asked not to have their names revealed because they had been internally exposed to radiation.
According to them, at that time their dosimeters were ringing incessantly and they were extremely anxious.
When they passed through the Tsushima district, they saw all the parked cars and thought that it was an evacuation shelter.
"Protective clothing? No. We weren't wearing any, and we didn't get out of our car."
In the early dawn on March 14, a monitoring vehicle from the National Institute of Radiological Sciences was passing through the Tsushima district. There were still many evacuees there.
Though there were measuring devices in the car, "Our purpose was to transport materials. We didn't take any readings of radioactivity," said a public relations official.
Most likely, the men that Kanno met belonged to one of such teams dispatched to take measurements.
"Thanks to the warning those two gave us, we were able to flee. Why is it that the national government and TEPCO didn't warn us? Even more people would have been able to get away."
The jungle in the backyard
The temporary housing in Koori where Kanno and her family are living is 40 kilometers from Namie. Once a month, she returns to her home in Namie.
A checkpoint has been established at the turnoff on national road No. 114 to the Tsushima district. Police officers wearing masks get out of their patrol car and check for a pass issued by the town.
In late August, Kanno went back to the district. The rows of houses look the same as before the accident, but the dosimeter she was wearing rang nonstop. It was set to ring when measurements exceed 3 microsieverts per hour.
"I received a temporary payment of 1 million yen ($12,988) from TEPCO, but I spent 210,000 yen of that to buy this device."
She reaches her home. When she approaches the entrance, the reading jumps to 46 microsieverts/h. Beneath the rain gutter behind her house it stood at 170 microsieverts/h. If she simply stayed there for six hours, she would exceed the annual permissible exposure of 1 millisievert.
Kanno is originally from Osaka. Two years ago, she moved with her 60-year-old husband to Namie to take over his family home in Tsushima. Last year, they took an agricultural training program with the intent of growing greenhouse vegetables. They tore down the old house and built a new one.
Their oldest son, Junichi, 27, who worked in an "izakaya" pub in Osaka, also came with them. He joined a festival group and had just begun learning how to play the Japanese drums in an effort to get settled into the area. Now, however, they may never be able to return to this land.
Kanno has something to say to TEPCO and the national government.
"Drive along the deserted roads. Then you'll understand what a huge catastrophe you've unleashed."
The weeds behind her house have grown taller than her. It's just like a jungle. Wasps have built a nest in her doorway and gadflies buzz noisily around. The neighborhood is filled with sunflowers. Residents planted them when they heard that the plant absorbs cesium, but if the sunflowers wither, the cesium returns to the soil and nothing will have changed.
Kanno experienced the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 when she lived in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture. At the time, she worked as a volunteer and visited temporary housing to talk to the elderly about health concerns.
"I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would live in temporary housing myself."
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Following are URLs for previous installments:
First installment (http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ2011111516540)
Second installment (http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ2011111616820)
Third installment (http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ2011112117045a)
Fourth installment (http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ2011112317049a)
Fifth installment (http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ2011112417236)
Sixth installment (http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ2011112517239a)
Seventh installment (http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ2011112617248a)
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