Tue, Mar 29, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Nuclear evacuees’ frustrations grow

‘GAP’:People who live close to the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant see a disconnect between what they read in newspapers and what little news the government has provided them

Reuters, FUKUSHIMA CITY, JAPAN

Seven-year-old Shouta Shiratori studies at an evacuation center in Fukushima, Japan, yesterday. Shiratori’s family was evacuated from Minamisoma, which is about 25km from the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

Photo: Reuters

With all the stoicism of a character out of Hemingway — one of his favorite writers — Mitsuharu Watanobe sits on a gymnasium floor in the Japanese city of Fukushima and waits.

Watanobe, a retired school teacher whose house is about 25km from a critically damaged nuclear power plant, has spent about two weeks in a sports complex that has become a temporary home for hundreds of area evacuees.

Cushioned by blankets and using cardboard boxes as tables, the evacuees read newspapers and watch television, for any hope they may be able to go home, and simply wait, growing impatient with a government they say has been less than forthright about the nuclear crisis.

“I lived through World War II, when there was nothing to eat and no clothes to wear. I’ll live through this,” Watanobe said while sitting cross-legged on a blanket, a copy of a newspaper by his knees. “But the scary thing is the radiation. There is a gap between what the newspapers write and what the government is saying. I want the government to tell the truth more.”

Engineers have been battling to control the six-reactor Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power complex since it was seriously damaged in a March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which left more than 27,000 people dead or missing across Japan’s northeast.

Fires, explosions and radiation leaks have repeatedly forced them to suspend work on averting a catastrophic meltdown at the plant, 240km north of Tokyo.

With no clear progress at the facility for days now, the authorities appear to be resigned to a long fight to contain the world’s most serious atomic crisis in 25 years.

About 1,300 evacuees are staying in the sports complex. At one point there were up to 2,500 staying in its two gymnasiums, but many have left Fukushima for other parts of Japan.

“We’re not told anything, we have to read the newspaper to find out what is going on and I don’t know what has happened back in my village,” said 62-year-old Akira Mita, who was living with his wife and three children in a narrow space cordoned off by cardboard boxes.

Mita’s house is just a few kilometers away from the crippled Fukushima plant and he and his family fled at the first warning.

Others, who lived further away from the plant, said they were initially led to believe they would be fine, but were later told to get out, increasing their frustration.

Tatsuya Ara, a 36-year-old who left his home with his wife and two small children, said he was initially unsure whether he had to leave his home, which is more than 20km from the plant.

“The government should have been clearer,” he said about information regarding what areas needed to be evacuated.

Watanobe said he was beginning to believe the government had been “too optimistic” about the crisis all along.

“The experts seem to be saying that this is much worse than we thought. You can’t just dismiss that as biased,” he said.

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