Voices from FUKUSHIMA Vol.4 Mr. Yuichiro SATO

Voices from <span class=FUKUSHIMA Vol.4 Mr. Yuichiro SATO" />

14:46, Fri­day March 11, 2011:  Mas­sive Earth­quake
15:36, Sat­ur­day March 12, 2011: Hydro­gen explo­sion at the First Reac­tor
11:01, Mon­day March 14, 2011: Hydro­gen Explo­sion at the Third reac­tor

March 11, 2011
The Great East Japan Earth­quake
Yuichi­ro Sato from Namie Town
(Pres­i­dent of res­i­dents’ asso­ci­a­tion at Miyashiro Tem­po­rary Hous­ing Area, Fukushi­ma City)


sato01I’m Sato from Miyashiro Tem­po­rary Hous­ing Area.  It’s already been a year since the mas­sive earth­quake of March 11, 2011, fol­lowed by explo­sion of the nuclear pow­er plant, nuclear fall­out, and invol­un­tary evac­u­a­tion.  If this had  just been a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter, I think we would have been back in Namie, our home town. It makes me real­ly angry every time when I think; only if there were no nuclear pow­er plants, if only there were no nuclear fall­outs.  It’s unbear­able to won­der how long, how many years  would we have to wait until  we would be able to return, or would we be able to return at all? We have the respon­si­bil­i­ty to pre­serve our home­town and pass it on to our descen­dants. We can­not destroy our vil­lage, our town, our pre­fec­ture and also the Japan­ese peo­ple with the nuclear pow­er plants we built.  It’s up to the peo­ple who live in the vil­lages, towns and pre­fec­tures where nuclear plants are locat­ed to stop or restart nuclear pow­er plants.

The Great East Japan Earth­quake:  March 11, 2011
Deaths: 15,777
Miss­ing:  3,465
Total:    19,242
In Namie
Deaths: 149
Miss­ing: 35
Total: 184
On March 11, 2011, I woke up as usu­al and went to work.  I was a shut­tle bus dri­ver.  That day I had a three-hour shift in the morn­ing and a three-hour shift in the evening, with a long lunch break in between. I always went home dur­ing the break. I thought I was going to end my day with my evening shift.  Dur­ing the lunch break, I was at home watch­ing tele­vi­sion and sud­den­ly at 14:46, an Earth­quake Ear­ly Warn­ing flashed on the TV screen.  I quick­ly turned off the kerosene stove and the TV. Just as I start­ed to go down the stairs, the quake struck. My body was sway­ing left to right, hit­ting the walls and I couldn’t keep my feet on the steps. It was impos­si­ble to walk down­stairs.  I fell on my back but I man­age to reach the first floor.  When I went to the 8-mat tatami room where my nine­ty-year-old moth­er- in-law was rest­ing, I found her in a fren­zy to escape. She looked like she was doing the Awa Dance, with her body sway­ing back to forth, left to right, and her arms wav­ing.  I caught her hands, lift­ed her on my back and tried to go out­doors, but it was dif­fi­cult. It  was shak­ing so hard; with cab­i­nets and cup­boards falling over and onto the floor.  As we exit­ed the house, the roof beam and roof tiles came falling down.  Con­crete block walls were crum­bling.  It was very dan­ger­ous.  I looked around and saw roads break­ing up, hous­es col­laps­ing, it was just like hell.  Once the quake sub­sid­ed, I pulled the car out from the garage and took my moth­er-in-law to a safe place.  I returned and called on the elder­ly in the neigh­bor­hood.  For­tu­nate­ly, every­body was safe.

Then came the after­shocks.  They were ter­ri­ble, too.  Nois­es were com­ing out of the hous­es.  Some­thing was falling inside.  Dusk came, but there were no lights because of the black­out.  I turned on the engine of my car, which I parked out­side, and switched on the TV.  It was then I learned the extent of the dis­as­ter.  The earth­quake was mag­ni­tude 9.0.  I saw the tsunami rolling over the sea­walls and crush­ing over hous­es, cars and peo­ple.  The water swept towns away. I learned the grav­i­ty of the dis­as­ter from the TV and felt the ter­ror once again.

Lat­er there was com­mo­tion around me.  The tele­vi­sion was show­ing the dev­as­ta­tion at the coastal area and Uke­do Port.  Every­thing was destroyed: auto­mo­biles, hous­es and the seashore.  There were reports of deaths.  Many peo­ple were enter­ing the local gym­na­si­um that served as evac­u­a­tion shel­ter. Res­i­dents were arriv­ing at schools.  It was hor­ri­ble.


sato02It became com­plete­ly dark, but the black­out, hunger and fear of after­shocks kept us from sleep­ing.  Going back in the house was out of ques­tion, so we decid­ed to rest in our car until the next morn­ing. I think it was 6:15 on March 12, although lack of sleep, fear and fatigue pre­vent­ed me from think­ing clear­ly. The town’s loud­speak­ers start­ed to sound, “Emer­gen­cy! Emer­gen­cy! Please evac­u­ate!”  With­out know­ing what was going on, I gath­ered my fam­i­ly into the car, but as soon as we reached the nation­al high­way, the traf­fic was com­plete­ly jammed.  What would nor­mal­ly take half an hour, took us three hours before we final­ly reached the evac­u­a­tion cen­ter of Tsushi­ma High School. The gym­na­si­um at Tsushi­ma High School was packed to the lim­it with peo­ple of Namie.  I tried to reach my sib­lings and rel­a­tives with my cell phone, but couldn’t get through because of poor recep­tion.  There was absolute­ly no out­side con­tact.  With­out access to any infor­ma­tion, our belief that our social sys­tem would give us a sense of secu­ri­ty and safe­ty, crum­bled on March 12, 2011.

I didn’t know at that time, but some peo­ple said they had heard a loud explo­sion at 15:36 from the south­east of Tsushi­ma High School.  Among the evac­uees, there were dif­fer­ent groups of peo­ple: those who had some infor­ma­tion, oth­ers who did not, and oth­ers who were just whis­per­ing among them­selves. Almost half of Namie’s res­i­dents were at the evac­u­a­tion shel­ter.  With­out any infor­ma­tion, we were total­ly unaware that radi­a­tion result­ing from the hydro­gen explo­sion was flow­ing direct­ly to where we were. There was no radi­a­tion alert issued by our Town, nor was there any from the Pre­fec­ture. We had evac­u­at­ed, but we were not pre­pared for any­thing oth­er than a nor­mal sit­u­a­tion. We sim­ply did not know.

We received a rice ball the size of a baby’s fist for din­ner.  Most of us at the evac­u­a­tion shel­ter hadn’t eat­en since the evening of March 11.  We couldn’t. Peo­ple inside the shel­ter were made to go out­side and wait in line for a small rice ball.  As we wait­ed out­side, I sup­pose radi­a­tion kept falling on us. It was invis­i­ble, we didn’t feel any­thing, and we had no fear or wor­ry. We would nev­er know how much radi­a­tion we were exposed to at that time.  The area around Tsushi­ma High School was still cov­ered with snow.  It was cold in the evening.  We had no clothes to change, and there were only a few stoves to keep warm.  To keep out the cold, peo­ple wrapped them­selves up with news­pa­pers or spread out sheets of card­board on the floor.  Still the cold inside the gym­na­si­um was intense.  It was freez­ing.

I bare­ly slept when the morn­ing came. The gym­na­si­um had been packed when I went to sleep but now, there were open spaces. I learned the rea­son why once I went out the door; the news­pa­pers had been deliv­ered. And, the lead sto­ry on that news­pa­per was the hydro­gen explo­sion at Fukushi­ma Dai­ichi nuclear pow­er plant on March 12.  At last, I grasped what was going on.  The pow­er plant had explod­ed, and the radioac­tive plume was spread­ing towards Tsushi­ma, where more than half of Namie’s res­i­dents had gath­ered, and towards Iitate.  Anx­i­ety spread among the evac­uees on March 13, but still there was no accu­rate infor­ma­tion.  We didn’t know what to do, nobody told us what to do.


sato03Grad­u­al­ly evac­uees, start­ed to leave on their own accord and head­ed towards Fukushi­ma City. For those of us who remained, no accu­rate infor­ma­tion, no advice was given.  Peo­ple still had to go out­side to receive meals, and to relieve them­selves because lava­to­ries were out of order.  We were almost out of fuel.  On March 14, there was a hydro­gen explo­sion at the Unit 3 reac­tor of the Nuclear Plant. News­pa­pers were now deliv­ered to the gym­na­si­um, and most of us devoured the news. Lit­tle by lit­tle, we learned what was hap­pen­ing, but we still thought we were safe because the pow­er plant was more than 10 km away.  The num­ber of evac­uees kept dwin­dling.

On the morn­ing of March 15, The Town issued a direc­tive to evac­u­ate Tsushi­ma. The plan was to go to Nihon­mat­su City. They said Nihon­mat­su was already full of evac­uees from Namie, so they were not sure whether we could evac­u­ate there, stay there, or even have food avail­able there. At any rate, since the evac­u­a­tion direc­tive was out, they insist­ed that we fol­low it. We were told to evac­u­ate by car or by bus, but that no pets were allowed on the bus. Because we had a pet and our car had some gaso­line, and if going to Nihon­mat­su couldn’t guar­an­tee a place for us there, we thought we might as well call on our rel­a­tives in Fukushi­ma City. I asked my wife and my moth­er-in-law whether they were ready to bear the hard­ship of get­ting stuck if we ran out of gaso­line along the way. They hung their heads in silence.  Our pet was a mem­ber of our fam­i­ly; we just couldn’t leave it behind. I tried to call our rel­a­tive in Fukushi­ma to inform them that we were com­ing, but there was still no recep­tion. We had no choice but to go with­out inform­ing them. We didn’t expect the gaso­line to last, but the road was down­hill at many places and the mileage was good, so we arrived at Fukushi­ma City safe­ly.  As soon as we reached the City, our mobile recep­tion recov­ered, and we were able to check on the safe­ty of  our sib­lings and rel­a­tives.  My old­er brother’s twen­ty-five-year-old daugh­ter had been  miss­ing since March 11.  With­out delay, we vis­it­ed our rel­a­tives and told them what hap­pened up to that day. We asked them of the sit­u­a­tion in Namie, and once again became keen­ly aware of how ter­ri­ble the earth­quake, tsunami and nuclear acci­dent were.  We stayed at our rel­a­tives’ for about a mon­th.  I am tru­ly grate­ful they vacat­ed a room for us.  Even though our rel­a­tives’ house suf­fered dam­age from the earth­quake, they offered us meals, allowed us to take baths, and gave us kerosene for heat­ing.  Words can­not describe how grate­ful we are. We then moved to Shiki No Sato in Inawashiro [a hotel used as an evac­u­a­tion shel­ter in the cen­ter of Fukushi­ma Pre­fec­ture].  The three of us and our dog moved there on April 11, and stayed for about five months.  At last we moved to Miyashiro Tem­po­rary Hous­ing Area, where we live now.


When I look back over the past year, what I can say as some­one who went through the dis­as­ter is that we should always keep vital items on hand, in case of emer­gen­cy. First­ly, we need food, water, radio, toi­let paper,sato05 toi­letries, cash, cred­it cards, Also, we should always try to main­tain a full tank in the car, and have a spare can ready, if pos­si­ble. Flash­lights and mobile phones are essen­tial and they are very help­ful when you trav­el at night. Try to keep the­se items in one place which is acces­si­ble dur­ing an emer­gen­cy. Sec­ond­ly, we need to pre­pare our home for earth­quakes. Secure cab­i­nets and fur­ni­ture with straps to wall studs.  Keep dan­ger­ous items away from your head when you go to bed. I’d also like to rec­om­mend: secur­ing roof tiles so they won’t fall, pro­tect­ing your head when you exit your house, and stay­ing away from con­crete block walls and gates. Pro­tect­ing your­self is most impor­tant; but in case some­thing hap­pens to you, hav­ing an ID with you is crit­i­cal. My brother’s miss­ing daugh­ter was found two weeks lat­er in a car.  But the body was so bad­ly dam­aged that her iden­ti­ty could only be estab­lished only by her driver’s license.

We, the res­i­dents of Namie are endur­ing life­long hard­ships, not mere­ly because of a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter; but because the myth of nuclear pow­er plant safe­ty has been destroyed by human error. The radi­a­tion from the nuclear pow­er plant is caus­ing dam­age, not only to the com­mu­ni­ties where the­se plants are locat­ed, but to Fukushi­ma Pre­fec­ture, and also to all of Japan as well.  They say the hydro­gen explo­sion at Fukushi­ma Dai­ichi was caused by the earth­quake and tsunami, and they also say the scale of dam­age was unpre­dictable, but does not ‘safe’ mean being pre­pared for con­tin­gen­cies?  With­out the hydro­gen explo­sion and the radi­a­tion fall­out, we could have done more to save the 184 peo­ple who died because of the tsunami.  Our local police and fire fight­ers were out res­cu­ing sur­vivors. They worked hard and saved lives one by one.  Res­cue work­ers say they could cer­tain­ly have saved more lives, if the hydro­gen explo­sion at 15:36, Sat­ur­day March 12, had not occurred.  Town lead­ers also said they had wait­ed until the very last min­ute to issue an evac­u­a­tion direc­tive to the res­cue work­ers.  I heard that they fought back their tears as they gave the direc­tive to stop the search and to evac­u­at­ed.
The nuclear acci­dent has forced the entire pop­u­la­tion out of Namie.  We do not know when we’ll be able to return. It’s hard to wait with­out know­ing when the evac­u­a­tion will end. It’s an evac­u­a­tion caused not by a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter, but by radi­a­tion leak­age from the nuclear pow­er plant.  Younger peo­ple couldn’t be sure if they would want to return or not. It would be hard­er for them to decide if they have small chil­dren. As for the elder­ly, they would want to return as ear­ly as pos­si­ble, or at the very least, dur­ing their life­time. Life is real­ly hard for every res­i­dent of Namie.


sato07It has been 40 years since Fukushi­ma Dai­ichi nuclear pow­er plant has been built.  All this time, the Town and the Pre­fec­ture have been receiv­ing sub­si­dies from Tokyo Elec­tric Pow­er Com­pa­ny.  Did they spend the mon­ey only to build pub­lic facil­i­ties?  How did they spend the mon­ey?  Have they ever thought about the pos­si­bil­i­ty of an acci­dent and used the mon­ey to study how to deal with radi­a­tion leak­age and decon­t­a­m­i­na­tion process? The­se thoughts make me furi­ous. I was born 58 years ago in Namie and thought I would live out my life in my home­town. But, the nuclear acci­dent changed my job, my plans and my entire life. It forced us out of our home­town and made us live in tem­po­rary hous­ing in an unfa­mil­iar place. I’m fed up with all this.

I heard that there are 54 nuclear reac­tors in Japan, and that the remain­ing reac­tors will be shut down in April for inspec­tion.  It’s the first time when all of Japan’s nuclear pow­er plants will become idle, and I think this is a rare oppor­tu­ni­ty to do some­thing. If we do not stop nuclear pow­er plants now, we won’t have a sec­ond chance.  If we don’t think what to do now, I don’t think we will be able to think at all.  Once you have a nuclear pow­er plant in your town or vil­lage, sub­si­dies will be flow­ing in, finance will improve, jobs are made and you think the future is guar­an­teed. You feel proud with­out the need to work hard, just rely­ing on a myth of safe­ty and secu­ri­ty, until an acci­dent occurs. When an acci­dent hap­pens, the pow­er com­pa­nies will not shoul­der the respon­si­bil­i­ty. Instead, they will say it’s out­side of their expec­ta­tions. Before pay­ing com­pen­sa­tion, the Util­i­ties may ini­tial­ly admit they have caused injury and apol­o­gize. They bow their heads as if they have pre­arranged it, but when it comes to pay­ing com­pen­sa­tion, they’ll do every­thing to spare even a yen from the sum. With guid­ance from Tokyo Elec­tric Pow­er Com­pa­ny, they deal with us, as if they are the vic­tims and we are the per­pe­tra­tor. The Company’s mon­e­tary loss is recouped by rais­ing the elec­tric­i­ty rates, and they are get­ting back on their feet.  This is what a nuclear pow­er plant is…a pow­er com­pa­ny. If by any chance nuclear pow­er plants get restart­ed in Japan, there could be anoth­er nuclear acci­dent else­where. To have no more vic­tims like us, peo­ple of every vil­lage, town, pre­fec­ture and Japan need to seri­ous­ly con­sid­er what to do now.  If we can do away with nuclear pow­er plants by pay­ing a lit­tle more, a bit of a util­i­ty hike is a neces­si­ty.  I want to see the bru­tal­i­ty of nuclear pow­er gone from this coun­try to pro­tect our nature and our future gen­er­a­tion.

Last­ly, I would like to thank the staff of Catholic Tokyo Vol­un­teer Cen­ter for giv­ing us courage, vig­or and dai­ly neces­si­ties.  I’m real­ly grate­ful to the peo­ple from var­i­ous NPOs, vol­un­teer orga­ni­za­tions and local sato06com­mu­ni­ties.  We still do not know at all when we’ll be able to return, but we believe that one day, our day­break will come, and we are going to keep our spir­its up.

Thank you for your kind atten­tion.