The government said it was safe - now I can't trust them
Published 17/03/2011 | 05:00
In a cavernous sports hall on the outskirts of Fukushima, a message booms out from the public address system: "Attention please! Attention please! Radiation screening is now available. Voluntary radiation screening is now available."
In the time it takes a hundred or more people to put on their shoes, a queue is formed outside the centre: parents and children, old people and pregnant women all seeking reassurance that they have not been contaminated by radiation leaking from the Fukushima nuclear plant.
As the line lengthens, people patiently wait their turn, shuffling forward to a masked health worker holding a radiation meter, who sweeps each person with care around the head, trunk, genitals and legs, right down to the upturned soles of their shoes.
Many are shivering in the cold after Japan's weather changed for the worse in the past 24 hours, but the queue shows no sign of shortening as flurries of snow dance across the centre's over-spilling car park.
"The test was clear," said Shuzo Kaneyama, holding up a small piece of printed paper, like a till receipt, which he has been twirling tightly around his little finger. It shows his reading as "0.0" and states, for the avoidance of doubt, that "as a result of testing we confirm no radiation contamination".
The evacuees at Fukushima sports hall are in need of peace of mind. Some in the queue admitted that they were being tested again yesterday, in spite of being cleared the day before.
Mr Kaneyama, an insurance rep from the small town of Namie, 8km along the coast from the smouldering nuclear power plant, was among 170,000 people living on the floors of sports halls and community centres across Japan yesterday.
He was severely stressed after four evacuations in as many days -- first after the earthquake, then from the tsunami which flattened his house and finally to two "safe" places outside the 30km exclusion zone thrown around the Fukushima plant.
Mr Kaneyama's test was clear, but others have not been so fortunate. The 52-year-old, his wife, Keiko, and their four children were still in survival mode, but already they said they would never return to Namie, a fishing port of 22,000.
"Our house is gone, and so many boats were smashed by the tsunami ... now with the radiation, we will never be able to go back, never eat the vegetables again," he said.
"I can't trust the government. They said the power station was stabilised after the earthquake and then the radiation levels came up. Even before the accident the government said it was safe, safe, safe. That this couldn't happen, but it did," he added.
Families gathered in small encampments of blankets and water bottles on the centre's basketball courts have nothing to do all day. Some watch the television in public areas, the elderly nodding off in front of live pictures of radioactive steam rising from the Number 3 reactor. The majority pass the time in an uncertain daze, awaiting the outcome of the battle to cool the reactors.
A few, such as Eriko Ishida, an English teacher who spent time living in New Zealand, try to make independent plans, but their initiative founders on the growing shortages of food as well as fuel, which has become almost impossible to find without government accreditation.
"I have a car, but no petrol," said Ms Ishida. "I have my elderly parents here and these conditions are not good for them. We have a flat in a place that is far enough away to be safe, but we just cannot reach it."
Ms Ishida came to the Fukushima centre voluntarily, even though her house in the coastal town of Soma is 20km beyond the 30km exclusion zone.
"In my position, what would you do? Would you trust them? Would you stay put? Or would you just get out?"
It is a question that more and more people are asking. (© Daily Telegraph, London)