In January 2013, with my 4-year-old child, I evacuated from Fukushima to Niigata. I left my grandma, father, mother and older brother in my hometown.
Where I grew up is about 60 km from Fukushima Daiichi [Nuclear Plant]. It is located near Mt. Adatara, set on the gentle fan-shaped plain.
My hometown thrived on farming, mainly rice and vegetables, taking advantage of the abundant clear spring water, fresh air, and warm sunshine.
Unusual for that region, the population was growing steadily although slightly. I was very proud of my hometown. But it is now one of the most contaminated areas.
What I’ll tell you today is just my personal opinion. I understand there will be other interpretations.
I knew little about nuclear power plants or radiation. But maybe I was a little more aware of them than others since my boss from when I was working was against nukes.
That boss often told me: “You know it’s dangerous when you hear the word ‘vent,’ [then] run away [immediately]!”
I heard that word, however, a few months after the accident.
The first time I thought about moving was when I watched on TV a helicopter spraying water on Reactor #3 on March 17, 2011. Then I felt more scared when I heard that they would try to stop contaminated water with sawdust. But when we had no water or gas after the earthquake, we went outside [without thinking/knowing about radiation].
From the 15th to the 25th of March , I evacuated to my relative’s house in Gunma prefecture. I remember the eerie feeling I had when I saw Mt. Akagi was yellow.
Later I heard that cedar pollen grows big when exposed to radiation. Radiation traveled that far. [Gunma is about 120 miles from Fukushima city, Fukushima.]
I still regret thinking why I didn’t move right then. I feel guilty thinking I wouldn’t have had my child exposed to radiation if I moved then.
I couldn’t decide right away because I was going through a yearlong at-home job training for my work. I needed income because I’m a single mother. I had fear of radiation, but at the same time I wanted to deny it and thought I would stay and continue [the training] at least one year.
However, my child started to become sick. When I took my child to a hospital, the diagnosis was a cold. But the coughs didn’t stop and, looking sluggish, my child seemed to be worse.
One time, a decontamination worker said:
“This area is very highly contaminated. I would never live here.”
The municipal office lent out dosimeters. A municipal worker told me:
“Hold it more than one meter above the ground, and stay there more than 30 minutes [to measure the radiation].”
He also said it would just be a rough indication, not an accurate measurement. My younger sister and her husband had already moved. When I called her she said:
“Move here right away.”
On the other hand, my grandma, parents and brother said:
“It will be O.K. Don’t be nervous.”
Since I caused trouble for them when I became a single mother, and since I had promised them I would return the favor to them, I started to feel I couldn’t talk about my fear for radiation.
Particularly, my grandma was looking forward to taking care of my child, like walking to and from the kindergarten bus stop everyday. I felt I was deceiving both.
In my hometown, I felt more and more uneasy about talking about radiation. One time I carelessly talked about it and my friend scolded me saying I was a wimp. I felt my friendship would be destroyed.
The central government promotes decontamination, but it only works if you have a lot of vacant land to keep the removed contaminated dirt. My family doesn’t have such extra land, so they don’t do decontamination. When the wind was strong, the number on our dosimeter jumped up.
My child likes to play outside — he likes acorns, plants, pebbles, and so on. It was very hard to tell him not to play outside.
My family grows all the vegetables we eat at home and they love to feed them to my child. I saw disfigured dandelions around our fields. 50 to 60 plants grew at one spot and their stems were all put together into one gigantic wide stem, with huge, huge flowers.
It was very weird. I had never seen anything like that. Tons of millet suddenly grew in the fields. It never happened before. Disfigured vegetables appeared.
[My family] gave my child peaches, tomatoes, corn, bamboo shoots, and huge shiitake [they harvested]. They fed us dried persimmons, too. Some families stopped growing vegetables and shifted to flowers, but my family stubbornly kept growing food.
There was a town meeting about getaway travel and in that meeting they told us it’s better not to eat dried persimmons because they can be contaminated with radiation. That was the first time I felt that it’s O.K. to be concerned about radiation.
I didn’t know why, but I started to cry. So, I brought our disfigured vegetables to the municipal office for radiation testing.
I was yelled at there:
“Don’t you understand? We say it’s safe! Mothers must not act like that!”
They never tested my vegetables.
It got harder and harder to talk about radiation. At the kindergarten they encouraged children to go out to play and to my disbelief, they used local food for school lunch.
My child had cold symptoms all the time. He had frequent nose bleeding. He was always scratching his itchy body.
At the Sakura Festival [cherry blossom fest–probably in April], my child put his barefoot in a puddle of water.
After a few days, his foot was swollen. The doctor said it was not a cold symptom, but I couldn’t ask about radiation effect. I felt that people would laugh at me if I’d say anything about radiation at the hospital.
On Christmas day, I was feeling dizzy and [at the hospital] I was told I had gastroenteritis.
I found that something was wrong with my child’s eyesight. The doctor diagnosed it as ametropic amblyopi [reduced visual acuity]. From then on, my child has been using thick eyeglasses.
I heard a story about a mother whose baby had cesium detected in his urine. It felt as if mother’s happiness was taken away.
My friend who works at the water company told me that they detected cesium in beef stew in May, and all the children who drank milk threw up in September, and so on.
They are told not to tell those stories, but even if I try not to hear, I can’t block out all of them.
A person who hatches beetle larvae every year said all the beetles were disfigured and died. Stories like a person in his fifties who had a polyp or a hole in intestine… I’m certain that the number of people who got sick rose.
The number of funerals rose, too — totally healthy people suddenly died of heart attack and so on. My mother had a heart attack, too. She never had any heart problem before. Now she has a pacemaker.
It made sense when I heard Dr. Bandazhevsky talk about radiation effects on heart diseases.
I myself experienced health problems. I had been outside without a mask. I felt weak and couldn’t get up. I felt very sleepy when I worked. I had nausea. I found myself spaced out sitting in my car at a parking lot.
The doctor said I was depressed and prescribed a medicine, but it didn’t work at all. On the contrary, my condition got worse. It felt as if a little electricity was running in my body all the time and I couldn’t figure out how to do simple tasks.
Trying to refresh my feeling, I went shopping and I couldn’t remember what I was doing, and stood in the store for hours. Sometimes I wanted to die. Other times when I heard music I just wanted to dance. I couldn’t make decisions. I didn’t know what I was doing.
It was just as if the film I watched. In that film hamsters whose brains were damaged by radiation just kept running in circles until they died. I took one month off from work, but my symptoms just got worse.
That’s why I moved. TEPCO paid 700,000yen [about $7,000] at first and that was soon gone to pay for moving and everyday living. TEPCO then paid another 170,000yen [about $1,700]. I also got cash by cancelling my life insurance.
After we moved, our health recovered tremendously. I had to call my hometown about paperwork and they interrogated me [about moving]. So I moved my registry. I do not intend to go back.
People are nice, but I feel a vague sense of guilt. For example, when I park my car with Fukushima license plates, I feel guilty so I park it where it’s hard for people to see. Same thing when we go out to eat.
I feel someone will talk behind my back when I [do everyday actions like I] buy clothes. There is strained atmosphere among evacuees [different living situations causing envy — e.g. some have job, some don’t, etc.].
I try to behave cheerfully, but I feel totally hopeless when I think about our future.
Fukushima in a Nutshell: What you’re not being told