Environment
“We are the lessons you need to learn," they said, on a recent visit to Chennai.
  • Thursday, March 24, 2016 - 18:31
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By G. Sundarrajan

Two years ago, when I visited Fukushima as part of a Greenpeace team, what deeply impressed me about the local residents was their resilience. They were ordinary citizens of a town devastated by a nuclear disaster, yet the bond they shared with their soil ran so deeply that they kept hoping to go back to Fukushima.

It was at once their dream and their challenge. They couldn’t stop talking about how good and simple life was back in Fukushima till the disaster struck. I was amazed by the fact that they wanted to go back to their homes though they knew the town would not be as they had left it.

It was from such a deep bond, from that sense of love, that the will to fight against nuclear energy emerged. “We are the lessons you need to learn” most of them told me.

It was the same kind of love, and bond, that I found in them when three survivors of Fukushima visited Chennai on March 23. Running around with them in Chennai I realized they still carry their love for their land and have now found ways to reconnect. Even if it means doing what is prohibited and what could endanger their lives.

For 62-year-old Masami Yoshizawa, it is about rearing 300-odd cows that are under a government kill order. As the manager of Ranch of Hope, Yoshizawa decided to defy government orders and rear the cattle so they ‘would be a living testimony to what Fukushima had undergone.’ The kill order was issued because after the radioactive contamination, the livestock was not a commercial success.

But rearing them in a no-entry zone, Yoshizawa feels the sight and sound of the cattle offers a ray of hope to an otherwise devastated land. “The government wants to kill them because it wants to erase what happened here, and lure Japan back to its pre-accident nuclear status quo. I am not going to let them,” he says.

The farm was started by his father four decades ago and Yoshizawa wouldn’t give it up easily – something that is in the residents of Fukushima. “I live 14 kms away from where the accident took place. There were four explosions on four days. I could have left like many of my neighbours. At least 80 people committed suicide in my town because they didn’t want to leave Fukushima. But I have decided to be a living lesson for the rest of my life” he says.

It is exactly the same emotion that guided 28-year-old Mizuho Sugeno to come back to Fukushima and resume her organic farming. Sugeno had just completed her studies and was practicing organic farming for about a year when the disaster struck.

“I lived 47 kms away from the power plant and evacuated for about a week. I came back and founded Seeds of hope. What else could I do?” she asks.

Besides distributing Sugeno’s organic produce, Seeds of Hope demonstrates successful methods to prevent crops from absorbing radiation. “Farms were abandoned and people were left behind. I was advised not to go back to Fukushima but I didn’t just come back. I began planting seeds. I felt the power of the soil could be restored by planting seeds.”

But deep down Sugeno had her own misgivings. She was not sure if it would really be possible to continue with agriculture.

“I spent a lot of time on it and finally found out that there was scientific proof (as well as measures and methods to take) about no soil-to-plant transfer of radio cesium in soil that has been cultivated organically over a long period of time. I was able to reduce the radiation level detected in crops down to a reading that falls below the minimum capability of the sensor,” Sugeno says.

She began to get certain results and ship crops with no radioactive contamination.

“This was our land and it was from here that we had reared cattle and cultivated fruits for several years. Now we are doing it as a form of protest. Our strawberry rice cake – a delicacy you will find only in Fukushima – has become a symbol of protest. Even now we are looked at with disbelief outside Fukushima. But again, like they say, we shall overcome”  

Sugeno gets a complete body check-up once every six months, “just to be on the safer side”. For the moment, it is important that she is in good health to make Fukushima heard everywhere. “After all, we are the lessons you still need to learn,” she says again, with that wry smile.

G. Sundarrajan is an environmental and anti-nuclear activist and is a volunteer with Poovulagin Nanbargal.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.