The businesses of Fukushima that never recovered [pt3]

Namie was severely affected by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. Besides sustaining considerable damage from the earthquake, and the tsunami (which devastated the coastal area), the entire population of the town was evacuated en masse on the morning of March 12 as it is located well within the 20-kilometre (12 mi) exclusion radius around the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. It was not searched for bodies until more than one month after the tsunami.

During the evacuation, many town residents took refuge at a community center in western Namie in the belief that seasonal winds would blow radiation from the plant in a different direction. However, a change in wind direction blew the plant’s plume directly at them, heavily contaminating that part of the town. It was revealed months later that the national and prefectural governments had known about the direction of the plume due to forecasts by the SPEEDI computer system, but had decided not to tell evacuees in order to prevent a panic. Tamotsu Baba, Namie’s mayor at the time, said the decision to withhold information from his town was akin to “murder.”

On 15 April 2012, the town of Namie asked the Japanese government for free health-care for its residents. To monitor the long-term health, the city would provide to all inhabitants health handbooks in order to keep a thorough record of all health checks and thyroid examinations. The health books were made like the books used to monitor the health of the atomic bomb survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These “hibakusha” health books were free from medical fees, and Namie asked the government to set up a similar program for the people in Namie. Of the seven other cities around the nuclear plant, Futaba town was also willing to take part in this program.

In April 2012, the government of the evacuated town of Namie bought a whole-body dosimeter. The device was installed in a temporary housing in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima, in order to monitor the internal radiation exposure and the health of the citizens of Namie. Some 50 people a day could be examined, a complete screening would take two minutes per person. Initial screenings of the whole population was planned to be finished at the end of the fiscal year 2012. In this way the town government wanted to offer a long-term monitoring program to the population. Another reason for this was the excessive exposure to radiation during the first days directly after the nuclear disaster in March 2011, when predictions from SPEEDI were ignored by the Fukushima Prefectural government.

On April 1, 2013, the nuclear evacuation zone in Namie was revised. Japanese authorities set three different zones according to different levels of radiation: in the first, people were free to go in and out, but not allowed to stay overnight; in the second, access was limited to short visits; and in the third area, all entry was forbidden because of elevated radiation levels that were not expected to go down within five years after the accident.

On October 27, 2016, a brand new shopping mall, Machi Nami Marche, was opened in the town, with the intention that it would aid the return of people to the area in the event that the evacuation orders were lifted. This construction project was completed around the same time as a similar project in the nearby town of Tomioka, also within the evacuation zone.

On April 1, 2017, restrictions were lifted on the first and second zones, allowing residents to return to those areas, although a poll indicated over half did not intend to do so. The areas are in the coastal portion of Namie, which holds the town centre. The majority of the town’s hinterland remains in zone 3, with access completely prohibited due to high residual radiation. On December 22, 2017, the area was listed by the national government as one of several special zones for reconstruction and revitalisation, alongside several neighbouring towns and cities in the vicinity.

Further decontamination work began in May 2018 as part of a plan to decontaminate 660 hectares by March 2023. This is 3.7% of the area where entry is prohibited.

Naime had a beautiful Wedding Plaza called Kegon, and this was the go-to location in the area for couples to get married. They could deal with everything here from clothes to cake to the ceremony itself. But, for the last ten years it has been a symbol of tragedy.

There is also a small pharmacy closeby, strangely this was one of the only locations with hardly anything left inside…

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