On an average day, little activity stirs within the 20-kilometer, no-entry zone from the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The area resembles a ghost town.
But on a hilly grassland some 14 kilometers from the plant, the mooing of cows can be heard amid a tranquil agrarian scene that belies the invisible dangers of radiation.
Braving radioactive contamination, Masami Yoshizawa faithfully attends to more than 300 head of cattle remaining on his farm within the no-entry zone.
The Kibo no Bokujo, or Farm Sanctuary, project represents the 58-year-old cattle farmer’s resistance to the government “deserting people and cattle.” The name literally means “Ranch of Hope.”
Yoshizawa was the manager of M Ranch Ltd.’s Namie Farm in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, before the Great East Japan Earthquake struck northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011.
The farm was opened 40 years ago by his father, and Yoshizawa is determined not to give up on it or the cattle that used to provide him with his livelihood.
Large amounts of radioactive materials released from the plant have contaminated the area. The plant’s exhaust stacks can be seen from the farm. In the early days of the accident, Yoshizawa heard two explosions at the plant.
Seven days after the onset of the nuclear accident, Yoshizawa traveled alone to the head office of Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant operator, to lodge a protest and demand compensation.
Yoshizawa says the government unnecessarily allowed residents in the vicinity of the plant to be exposed to radioactivity for an extended period without providing any information on the diffusion of radioactive materials or evacuation guidance.
Finally in May last year, the government called for livestock in the no-entry zone to be destroyed, subject to the owners’ consent.
Most farmers had no choice but to give up raising livestock because radioactive contamination made them commercially worthless.
Many cows that were not destroyed were abandoned and starved to death, but some, set free by owners who refused to kill them, have survived.
In July, Yoshizawa started the Kibo no Bokujo project to keep the surviving cows contaminated with radioactivity alive.
The public, scientists and even Diet members have supported his humane effort, and many have made donations and provided feed.
Yoshizawa says he and the cows have been deserted by the government, much like his father after World War II.
His father, who immigrated to develop Manchuria and Mongolia in accordance with government policy, was “abandoned” after the Soviet Union joined the war against Japan. He lost three of his children while he fled. He finally returned to Japan after being in a detention camp in Siberia.
These days, when Yoshizawa visits the city, he often stands in front of train stations and lets passers-by know about what is happening within the no-entry zone.
“People cannot live in or return to Namie any longer," he says. "It is exactly like Chernobyl. Many cows died without feed or water. (The nuclear accident) has ruined our lives. Rice grown in Fukushima Prefecture does not sell. Nor do vegetables. It is because of TEPCO and the government."
At Kibo no Bokujo, many cows and calves died in midwinter, but others have survived. But things will unlikely return to normal.
Yoshizawa says he thinks an intermediate storage facility for contaminated soil and other waste will be built in the area around the nuclear plant.
“There is no meaning to going back to the town," he says. "For 40 years, the town has generated and transmitted power for Tokyo residents. We do not want a nuclear plant anymore.”
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(This article was written and the photos were taken by Munesuke Yamamoto for “fotgazet,” an online PDF magazine.)
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