Despite Radiation, Some Japanese Villagers Stay Put Radiation levels in one Japanese village are twice the level requiring evacuation, but some farmers are still trying to salvage what they can of their crops and livestock. "If you've got 600 cows, it's not that easy to get rid of them," one resident says.
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Despite Radiation, Some Japanese Villagers Stay Put

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Despite Radiation, Some Japanese Villagers Stay Put

Despite Radiation, Some Japanese Villagers Stay Put

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Japan has just doubled its estimate for the amount of radiation released by the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, yet people are still living in the zone around the plant. That's because in some villages residents have ignored evacuation orders.

NPR's Louisa Lim visited one such village where radiation levels are well above those considered safe.

LOUISA LIM: We're now in Iitate, 20 miles from the crippled nuclear reactor at Fukushima. And this is one of the areas that was supposed to have been evacuated by the end May, but still there are a lot of people here. And we've just found an old couple who are busy in their fields, so we stopped to see why they haven't yet left.

(Soundbite of a tractor)

LIM: Seventy-seven year old Nisaka Mieko and her husband are digging chives out of the rich brown earth, plastic gloves on their hands, masks over their mouths. The oniony smell of ripe chives hovers, as they chuck bundles of veggies into their tractor. They stand to lose $25,000 worth of crops, which can't be sold or eaten.

Ms. NISAKA MIEKO (Farmer): (Through Translator) We're taking these to put them in a place where they won't be rained on. We're waiting until next spring, when we might be able to plant their seeds. Of course, it's scary but we'll lose them if we don't do this.

(Soundbite of machinery)

LIM: Closer still to the nuclear plant, Sato Takao is feeding hay to his cows. He can't leave till he's sold them. But he's only getting 70 percent of the market price, even though the radiation measured in his meat is around a hundred becquerels per kilo, a fifth of that judged dangerous.

In late April, he and other residents were given a month to leave. But he thinks he won't be able to wind up his farm until August.

Mr. SATO TAKAO (Farmer): (Through Translator) If you've got 600 cows, it's not that easy to get rid of them. People have been talking up this nuclear disaster and the radiation, so, of course I can't sell them for the right price.

LIM: So I've now come to the Iitate Village Office to try to and find out what happened to this evacuation process. It seems that there are a lot of people who still haven't left, and I'm going to try to find a village official to explain what's going on.


Mr. SHINICHI MONMA (Deputy Village Chief, Iitate): (Japanese language spoken)

LIM: Shinichi Monma is the deputy village chief of Iitate. He admits about 20 percent of the village still hasn't left. But he believes they'll be gone by the end of June.

Mr. MONMA: (Through Translator) The national government doesn't know what it's like down here. It's hard to move people with children. People can't work when they move, there's nowhere for them to go. I'm not going to force people to leave.

(Soundbite of an alarm)

LIM: The truth is, the longer you spend in this picture-perfect place, complete with a friendly village shop, the easier it is to be lulled into a false sense of security. You can't see the radiation or smell it, people say repeatedly, and it's easy to forget the threat. But these lush emerald hills and bubbling brooks are poisoned, their radiation levels twice as high as those requiring evacuation, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Jan Van Der Putte from Greenpeace says the government needs to act now.

Mr. JAN VAN DER PUTTE (Radiation Expert, Greenpeace): We already asked for this further evacuation on April the 11th. This further step is absolutely required. And institutes and experts knew this already a month ago.

(Soundbite of music)

LIM: Jaunty music plays inside the village bookshop, where the shelves are being stacked with new titles. Mihori Takahashi has already moved out of the village, but she comes back every day to open the shop.

Mr. MIHORI TAKAHASHI: (Japanese language spoken)

LIM: It's my responsibility, she says. But she is in a state of mourning for what she's losing. After all, Iitate village was officially voted one of the most beautiful in Japan.

Ms. TAKAHASHI: (Through Translator) I'll miss all of it - the village, the little rivers, the mountains, the people, the clouds, the sky, everything.

LIM: And for some, leaving this rural idyll with its forests of cedar is more than they can bear. More than a hundred old people at the village's retirement home are being allowed to stay on, so long as they remain inside. That some prefer radiation to resettlement shows the enormity of the government's task.

Louisa Lim, NPR News.

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