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Nuclear meltdown creates Fukushima Diaspora

The full story… Mark Willacy reported this story on Wednesday, October 19, 2011 18:30:00 MARK COLVIN: It’s more than seven months since the nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima and thousands of evacuees are coming to the realisation that they’ll never be able to go home.There are many radioactive hot-spots around the nuclear plant – some with radiation levels comparable with the zone around Chernobyl.That means many communities will be no-go areas for decades.And many who’ve been forced from their homes are scathing about the way the Japanese government has handled the crisis.They say it’s abandoned them to deal with the disaster themselves.Our correspondent Mark Willacy made the journey into one of the Fukushima hot-spots, along the way profiling three of those affected by the meltdowns.(sound of Buddhist song)MARK WILLACY: It’s a Buddhist sutra of rebirth; chanted by a monk whose community is dying.Koyu Abe is the chief monk at Fukushima’s 400-year old Joenji Temple. He’s watched as the nuclear fall-out has settled silently on his district.”This radiation is like invisible snow” he tells me. “It’s fallen and brought us a long winter. But eventually this snow will melt, and spring will come” he says.(sound of Geiger counter)MARK WILLACY: Critical of government inaction, Monk Abe has decided to do something about the radiation choking his community; offering to take contaminated top soil from people in his community.On temple land, on top of a hill, he demonstrates just how contaminated these bags of earth are.(sound of Geiger counter screeching)”The radiation level here is so high that some of the Geiger counters can’t measure it” the monk tells me. “But I still accept this contaminated soil from my fellow residents” he says.To investigate just how choked with contamination this region is, I drive closer to the Fukushima reactors, to Iitate, a community designated by the government as a radiation hot-spot.I go to the dairy farm of Kenichi Hasegawa. Near here, just a couple of weeks ago, they found plutonium.”I have absolutely no trust in the government” farmer Hasegawa tells me. “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. What the hell are they doing?” he asks. Mr Hasegawa then takes me outside his barn, and he places a Geiger counter on the ground.(sound of Geiger counter)MARK WILLACY: Let’s see what it does. (sound of Geiger counter screeching)MARK WILLACY: It doesn’t like that very much, does it?The Geiger counter confirms that Mr Hasegawa’s farm is a hot-spot, with readings several times beyond what’s considered safe.So his family has walked off the land; his cattle have been slaughtered or sold; a way of life has come to an end.But so too have lives themselves. With Mr Hasegawa, a stoic, grizzled farmer in his late fifties, breaking down into tears while telling me of the suicide of a friend; another farmer forced off his land by radiation.”When I heard the news I went to his home and he was already in a coffin. But I still couldn’t believe it” he says. “I opened the coffin then I saw him. Before the nuclear disaster he’d been so happy” he says.There are thousands of others, like Kenichi Hasegawa, who will probably never be able to return to their homes.Tomoe Unuma and her daughter Hana lived in Futaba, just two-and-a-half kilometres from the reactors. Now they live in a school turned shelter, their only privacy provided by cardboard box walls separating their floor space from that of other evacuees just a couple of metres away. “I’d like to go home, if it was the same as before” Tomoe Unuma tells me. “I was born and raised in that community. But with the contamination I think I should just give up. Plus I can’t take my daughter there” she says.”I think about home sometimes”, says 10-year-old Hana. “But I know I can’t go back and that makes me sad” she says. (singing and chanting)MARK WILLACY: Back at the Joenji temple, monk Koyu Abe is chanting his sutra of rebirth but he knows some Fukushima communities are already dead.”Monks like me must ease people’s suffering. If there’s something I can do, I need to take action” he says.This is Mark Willacy in Fukushima for PM.MARK COLVIN: Mark Willacy’s full report can be seen tonight on Lateline on ABC1.

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