Voice of Fukushima Daiichi Evacuee in Niigata Prefecture
This is the second part of our series: “Nine years after 3.11: Listening to the voices of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster victims”
I was robbed of my hometown by the government and TEPCO
By Kanno Masashi
Previously I was living in Koriyama City in Fukushima Prefecture with my wife, two daughters, my parents and my elder sister. Immediately after the nuclear accident on March 11, my family evacuated to Nagaoka City in adjacent Niigata Prefecture. I stayed there until I resumed work in April.
At that time, my elder daughter was in the first grade of elementary school, and the younger one had just become one year old. My elder daughter began going to school wearing a hat, long-sleeve jacket, long trousers, and a face mask. Her clothes, protective hat and mask looked rather strange. We were watching the TV news every day, but they did not provide enough information on the nuclear disaster and we were worried about the situation in Fukushima. My wife and I worked hard to collect related information, and eventually decided to leave Koriyama.
Although it was said that the residents who wished to evacuate to other prefectures tended to face opposition from their parents or relatives, none of our relatives objected to our decision to leave Fukushima. They only said they would miss us. My wife and children moved to Nagaoka, but my parents and I remained in Koriyama because I had to work in the city. My family was split into two groups and began living separately, which made my life very busy and difficult. Consequently, I became exhausted. I also felt lonely because I could not see my children, who were growing up fast. So I decided to find a new job in Niigata and put an end to our separation.
Immediately after our evacuation, I came to know about ADR, the system of alternative dispute resolution and decided to take advantage of the system. I collected a huge amount of related documents, sorted them out and sent them to the mediation center. However, there were many unreasonable regulations involving the procedures and it seemed impossible to convey my difficult situation to the mediator.
While tackling the ADR procedures, I heard about the class action suit launched by the Fukushima nuclear accident victims who had evacuated to Niigata. Without any hesitation, I decided to participate in the plaintiffs’ group. In the first oral pleadings of the trial, the defendants (Tokyo Electric Power Company) made an astonishing comment using many difficult words. It was to the effect that the statement of the plaintiffs’ opinions was unnecessary. They wanted to turn a deaf ear to the plaintiffs. This indicated that the TEPCO officials did not feel any remorse at all for causing the disastrous accident.
In the following questioning of the plaintiffs, I explained about my nosebleed and my anxiety about the condition of my thyroid gland. The defendants asked me unbelievable questions, as if I was a medical expert, or as if I had consulted with specialist about the problems. When I told them that I had measured the radiation level around my house and found that it was so high that I felt the need to evacuate from that area, the defendants asked me if I had expertise in radiation. Naturally, most of the evacuees were not experts on radiation and I was no exception. What I wanted them to know was only the facts that I had a nosebleed and that my growing concern over exposure to radiation prompted me to evacuate. But the defendants seemed to be trying to flatly deny my claims.
Many plaintiffs are unable to attend the trial. The husband, for example, may be living separately in Fukushima while the wife is busy with childcare and her work, even if she is living in Niigata. It is not easy for the plaintiffs to fill all seats in the court gallery. Instead, the public in Niigata Prefecture are attending the hearings. We, the plaintiffs, attach great importance to filling all the seats in the court gallery in order to push public opinion over toward our side. So we greatly appreciate the attendance of the Niigata residents.
I was born in Fukushima and grew up there. Most of my relatives live in Fukushima. Without having experienced any job transfer, I raised my children in the prefecture as a matter of course. I expected that I would spend my post-retirement age in Fukushima as well, and never imagined that I would move to a different prefecture.
Immediately after our evacuation to Niigata, I was so busy struggling to make a living for my family that I had no time to become sentimental about leaving my hometown. It was about five years later that I regained the ability to think about other matters. My children also became old enough to handle most of their matters on their own. My parents, on the other hand, became older and are waiting for my return to Fukushima so that I can support them. They ask me to do various kinds of work, such as work in high, out-of-reach places, work that requires strong muscle power, as well as Internet-related work. If my parents could live together with my family in Niigata, not only my parents but also my children would be delighted, but things are not so easy.
Many people talk about “loss of hometown,” and I actually experienced it. But I had a perception that the term, “loss of hometown” was not quite right for expressing my real feeling. At one time, however, I heard the right expression coincidentally and felt quite relieved. I attended a meeting of the Niigata Prefecture Verification Committee subcommittee on health and life. On that occasion, Professor Reiko Seki of Rikkyo University said it was not “loss of hometown” but “deprivation of hometown.” Hearing this phrase, I realized that I had not “lost” my hometown, but I had been “robbed of” it.
Right now, I have no intention of returning to Fukushima until my younger daughter becomes 20 years old. What shall I do with my parents and my job after that? When my younger daughter becomes 20 years old, I will be nearly 60, close to retirement age, and I will probably face difficulties in finding a new job.
Although nine years have passed since the nuclear accident, our outlook on life remains uncertain.