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Japanese communities record Chernobyl-level r -

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Japanese communities record Chernobyl-level radiation

Broadcast: 19/10/2011

Reporter: Mark Willacy

Thousands of Japanese forced to evacuate their homes by the Fukushima nuclear disaster are facing
the prospect of never being able to return.


STEVE CANNANE, PRESENTER: Seven months on from Japan's nuclear meltdown, thousands of people are
still unable to return to their homes around the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

And for many of them, the terrible realisation is sinking in that they may never go back.

Some communities have been found to be radiation hotspots, with levels comparable to those found at

Many of those affected say they've had little help from the Japanese government as they struggle to
come to terms with what's happened.

The ABC's North Asia correspondent, Mark Willacy, travelled to one of the Fukushima hotspots and
talked to some of those dealing with the ongoing legacy of this disaster.

MARK WILLACY, REPORTER: He's a practitioner of Zen, a seeker of enlightenment in an age of nuclear

Koyu Abe is the chief monk of Fukushima's 400-year old Joenji Temple and this is a sutra for peace
and rebirth, a prayer for the resurrection of an entire community choked in radiation.

KOYU ABE, BUDDHIST MONK (voiceover translation): This radiation is like an invisible snow. It's
fallen and brought us a long winter. But eventually the snow will melt and spring will come.

MARK WILLACY: To help his community rid itself of this invisible snow, Monk Abe is allowing people
to dump their radioactive topsoil on temple land.

Armed with his four Geiger counters, he shows me just how contaminated this earth is.

The Japanese-made Geiger counter quickly blasts off the scale. The others reveal radiation levels
ten times beyond what's considered safe.

KOYU ABE, BUDDHIST MONK (voiceover translation): The radiation level here is so high that some of
the Geiger counters can't measure it. But I still accept this contaminated soil.

MARK WILLACY: But to get a real sense of just how contaminated some of these areas are, I have to
travel closer to the shattered nuclear plant to a community abandoned to the ravages of radiation.

Well I'm just crossing the mountains into Iitate and our Geiger counter is spiking, it's quadrupled
just in the space of a minute or two in terms of its reading. So there is no doubt that this place
is a radiation hotspot, especially since they found radioactive plutonium there just a couple of
weeks ago.

I've come to meet Kenichi Hasegawa, and as I pull into his farm in Iitate, the Geiger counter
reading begins to rise.

Before the nuclear meltdowns Mr Hasegawa was a dairy farmer. Now his sheds are empty, his cattle
slaughtered or sold off, his property is deserted and increasingly derelict.

Ask him about the performance of his government during this crisis and Kenichi Hasegawa goes close
to meltdown himself.

KENICHI HASEGAWA, FUKUSHIMA FARMER (voiceover translation): I have absolutely no trust in the
Government. I thought they could deal with a nuclear accident, but it is a joke. So now all they do
is cover up and hide data. All the while we were exposed to more and more radiation. What the hell
are they doing?

MARK WILLACY: There's no doubt Kenichi Hasegawa's farm is in a hot zone. A screeching Geiger
counter attests to that.

The nuclear fallout has scattered Mr Hasegawa's family. His son will no longer inherit the farm.

But what reduces this stoic farmer to tears is the tragic story of a close friend, also a dairy
farmer, who took his own life when told to slaughter his animals and leave his land.

KENICHI HASEGAWA (voiceover translation): When I heard the news, I went to his home and he was
already in a coffin. But I still couldn't believe it. I opened the coffin and then I saw him. I
choked up. Before the nuclear disaster, he'd been so happy.

MARK WILLACY: The Fukushima meltdowns have displaced 80,000 people. Many of them, like Tomoe Unuma
and her daughter Hana, are still living in shelters scattered throughout Japan.

Tomoe Unuma has been allowed to return to her home once to collect some belongings.

Less than three kilometres from the oozing remains of the nuclear plant, the village of Futaba is
now an overgrown, decaying ruin.

TOMOE UNUMA, FUKUSHIMA EVACUEE (voiceover translation): When we entered the zone it hit me just
what a terrible mess it had become. Normally it's a beautiful place of rice fields and homes, but
it was choked with weeds. I can't forget that scene.

MARK WILLACY: For 10-year-old Hana Unuma, life now means separation from her friends and her
father, who was forced to find work in another part of the country.

HANA UNUMA, FUKUSHIMA EVACUEE (voiceover translation): I think about home sometimes. But I know I
can't go back and it makes me sad.

MARK WILLACY: Across Fukushima there are countless more stories like those of the monk Koyu Abe,
the farmer Kenichi Hasegawa and the evacuee Tomoe Unuma, stories of resilience, loss, and hope.

KOYU ABE (voiceover translation): Monks like me must ease people's suffering. If there's something
I can do, I need to take action.

TOMOE UNUMA (voiceover translation): They say God never gives you a challenge you can't overcome,
but I don't know if I'm strong enough to overcome this.

KENICHI HASEGAWA (voiceover translation): We might come back, but I won't let the children come
back. It will never be safe for them. But I'd like to return and have my bones buried here.

MARK WILLACY: The invisible snow of radiation continues to haunt Fukushima. And for thousands here,
it could stalk them all their lives.

Mark Willacy, Lateline.