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Friday, July 26, 2013

My Trip To The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Zone (Part One)

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Richard Wilcox, Ph.D.

On July 20, 2013 Yoichi Shimatsu and I departed from Ueno station in Tokyo to visit the Fukushima nuclear disaster region and see what we could see.

Interestingly, the train from Tokyo to Fukushima on this particular line is hard to find on the map, and the train line has apparently been removed! Could it be the powers-that-be do not want people exploring this area given it is now a forbidden zone of nuclearized zombies and headless taxi drivers?

Our two-day trip was filled with activity, waiting, rushing, observations and emotions. A trip to the Fukushima nuclear zone is like a combination of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone meets a Stephen King horror story meets Kerouac’s On The Road.

I must thank Yoichi Shimatsu, who has done the tireless and thankless work of discovering the travel routes, places for overnight stay and the facts on the ground in Fukushima. No one knows more about the geographical reality of the Fukushima nuclear power plant no. 1 (FNPP#1) situation than Yoichi. More than his incredible kindness and knowledge is Yoichi’s biting sense of humor which keeps him moving against all odds. 

The long train ride which would normally take just a couple of hours between Tokyo and Fukushima was interspersed with long layovers between stations, for no apparent reason. Undoubtedly Japan’s countryside regions have suffered from brain drain and thus the numbers of passengers do not justify the number of trains. After the Fukushima disaster many people moved out of the immediate area and this has reduced the need for trains.

Beyond that fact, Yoichi speculates that the Japanese government does not want people going up there to snoop around; Fukushima is now a DEAD ZONE and off limits. Indeed it is, even while they are urging some people to move back in. Families that moved out of the immediate area of the nuclear disaster may now live in safer zones to the south, but they are forced to train their kids back to their original schools during the daytime, if that is where their family property is registered.

When we arrived at Nakaso, a seaside town on the southern border of Fukushima prefecture, my dosimeter which is a “Terra-P” (made in the Ukraine), measured low to normal background radiation. However, after we had dropped off our bags at the seaside hotel and traveled farther north, radiation levels increased.

We stopped at one town along the train route, Hisanohama, which is about 11 km from the FNPP#1. On a spectacular summer’s day we had a chance to walk out to a fishing port. Background air readings averaged 0.25 microsieverts per hour (mcs pr hr), about double a tolerable background level for long-term habitation (although no background radiation level is known to be safe, some radiation is unavoidable). The highest reading we found at this location was an old fishing net piled up alongside the road: 0.52 mcs pr hr. We measured fresh seaweed that was dropped on the road that locals eat in their soup to be 0.28 mcs pr hr. It would not be recommended to eat such food on a daily basis given that cesium and other radionuclides accumulate in the body faster than they are naturally expelled.

At the port the fishing boats were no longer used for fishing but for other kinds of clean-up work subsidized by the government. There was some rebuilding work at the port, a perfectly good asphalt parking lot was being torn up by a bulldozer. Presumably the radiation could not be removed so the only other option is to get rid of the entire surface.

Along the ocean a huge swath of houses had been wiped out by the tsunami on 3/11, which must have housed several hundred or even thousands of people. All that was left were the housing foundations covered in sand and weeds.

All along the sea coast we saw cracked walkways and fractured seawalls. In Nakaso the tsunami had actually made some small coastal islands disappear and scattered the concrete barriers across the beach.

As we walked back to the station in Hisanohama, we walked past a house with a motorcycle dude with his two little kids and wife playing in the yard. With the background radiation noticeably higher than the recommended dose I wondered about the fate of the children.

We also spotted many suspicious looking flowers and other forms of vegetation. According to Yoichi, radiation has affected some flowers in the nuclear zone to go haywire and outgrow their natural size (a topic for future research). Yoichi noted that radiation affects different plants differently, some are hardy and not affected; others, especially flowers may receive small doses but have big results in terms of mutations.

An oddly colored daisy among normally colored flowers
Yoichi indicates the normal height of this flower compared to this giant version
We already know that the biologist and expert on mutagenetic affects, Tim Mosseau, has shown that in Fukushima prefecture a variety of insects and other species have been affected (1). 

“Tim Mousseau [has] offered irrefutable and conclusive data proving the effects of the radioactive linear low-dose on wildlife at Chernobyl. In other words, the greater the dose, the greater the evidence of harm. His team continues to investigate the effects in Fukushima on wildlife and have found disturbingly similar results including birth defects, genetic mutations and tumors. If it can happen to bugs and birds, it can happen to humans.” And to vegetation.

As we departed the station we were among a very few number of travelers. The last station on the line was Hirano. We took a taxi to “J-Village” which used to be the sports complex paid for by the power companies as a bribe to the local community to accept the nuclear power plants, Fukushima no. 1 and 2, which are in the nearby area.

The taxi driver was a very old fellow with a hoarse voice who after a few minutes of driving began to noticeably twitch his body from side to side, as if to nearly go into convulsions. Whether this man was affected by old age or radiation we did not know, but it was not a good sign. We wondered whether this was a scene from Men In Black and he would remove his head upon arrival and place it on the dashboard. “That will be 20 dollars please.”

Hirano town itself had been decontaminated pushing radiation levels back to “normal.” The small town offered beautiful countryside vistas of the “Abukuma” mountain range. However, as soon as we reached the outskirts of the town levels jumped to 0.52 micro sieverts per hour, about four or five times the level considered safe for long-term habitation.

Once we reached “J-Village” we got out and walked around part of the former sports complex, which had now defunct soccer fields acting as parking lots and a large building that served as the Tepco administration worker center. We walked past a few workers waiting for the bus, they did not seem friendly and everyone went about their business with a sense of urgency.

Now within a couple of miles of the actual FNPP#1 background radiation was 0.5 mcs pr hr.

It was now late in the day but the sun was still hot. Temperatures were slightly cooler than Tokyo which made it a pleasant temperature for walking.

As we headed toward the ocean in the direction of FNPP#1 we saw some huge thermal power generation plants. According to Yoichi, these power stations were knocked out by the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami and this contributed to the problems at FNPP#1. Without back-up generators or outside power from these generators, the nuke plants were doomed and therefore melted down during that fateful week in March of 2011.

We heard beautiful bird songs, but also noticed strangely shaped flowers by the roadside that seemed too tall and chaotic; one plant would have flower stems that varied wildly in length. Was this a sign of genetic mutations?

As we walked down the hill toward the ocean in the direction of Tomioka, the town closest to FNPP#1 which is the now abandoned, we suddenly smelled a distinctly metallic odor which Yoichi described as “radiation.” Considering that my dosimeter was going crazy with alarm bells ringing and an average 0.5 mcr sv pr hr reading. It may have been radiation blowing toward us from the north from FNPP#1. It may have been some other substance being emitted by the nearby thermal power plant. We would regularly spit instead of swallowing in order to make sure we did not ingest it. Whatever that alien substance entering our bodies, it was definitely not healthy to living organisms and had to be expelled as soon as possible. 

Dr. Wilcox assesses low level radioactive debris
At the bottom of the hill which led to Tomioka town there was a magnificent vista of the ocean on the right side and a housing development on the left, with Tomioka in the distance surrounded by the undulating Abukuma mountains on the blue-gray horizon. An older woman was gardening in her dusty and grassless garden, pulling a few weeds. Yoichi and I had our masks on and were spitting furiously to rid the alien substance from our mouths. She was either ignorant or indifferent to the situation. 

Another troubling sight, chemtrails were scattered throughout the otherwise blue sky. Geoengineering programs are definitely being carried out in Japan where aerosol spraying residuals are witnessed daily.

We climbed a bluff overlooking the ocean and saw what was most likely one of the smokestacks of FNPP#1. I cannot say for sure that it was the diabolical place of pure evil, that for the next million years will spew its poisons into the life belt of the planet’s habitations, but it was most likely the place, given the thermal power plants were closely located to our right side, and FNPP#2 must have been a few kilometers to the south of us down the coast, out of our view.

There were no Devil’s Horns sprouting from the distant image of the smokestack, but there were plenty of dead pine trees around us and an eerie, lonely feeling given that people normally inhabited these parts but now the roads and houses were all nearly empty.

On the long hike back, our feet and calves aching, Yoichi and I talked to a few Tepco employees who were walking on the street but they looked very serious, a tad frightened and entirely surprised to see us. We were friendly to people but most of whom that we encountered were not friendly and tried to ignore us. This was gloomy Japanese village.

As we crossed a large bridge we spied massive numbers of white canvass wrapped bags of debris, piled three on top of each other under the bridge (out of sight out of mind!). There must have been thousands of them, each must have weighed tons if containing much soil. They looked weighty and solid.

Around J-Village and in Hirano town we saw a number of Japanese men who looked like, and most likely were, Japanese military or police. They were young and fit and jogging in the early evening (breathing in high background radiation) and on the lookout for anything unusual. They saw us but never acknowledged us and no one ever questioned or harassed us. Many months earlier in a location that we passed, near a Buddhist statue, a secret policeman grilled Yoichi for 20 minutes asking him what the hell he was doing there. He explained that he was photographing the statue! Always have a cover story.

As we approached Hirano town the radiation level suddenly lowered, this was due to the intensive decontamination that must have taken place. >From 0.5 mcr sv pr hr to 0.15 in such a short distance was a drastic change for the better and we could breathe easier. I would assume that decontamination would have to be carried out fairly often to keep the levels down. Even though 80 percent of the radiation that was emitted from the original nuclear meltdowns has now washed away from the land, the remaining 20 percent is molecularly bound to the substances it is attached to.

Of course, the nuclear reactors continue to leak significant amounts of radiation into the air and water; although the rate is much less than the original blasts, it is still an ongoing source of significant contamination.

We finally reached the station, but the last train from Hell would not leave for awhile. In the otherwise spooky and nearly abandoned town, we found a small restaurant that served Japanese rice wine and fish that was catering to local nuclear clean-up engineers.

I sucked on a lemon quarter to help remove radiation (during the next week I would consume turmeric to detox my body). With some trepidation, exhausted and famished we devoured the very salty and tasty “Suzuki” fish. Fukushima prefecture inspects all food products for radiation (with 100 bq. per kg. permissible level) whereas surrounding prefectures no longer do.

Somewhat inebriated we stumbled onto the train to the next destination where we had another meal of noodles. Now, well outside the radiation zone, we talked to friendly local people about our trip. We drank more rice wine and listened to the stories of the boisterous locals, who speak more loudly and plainly than city folk. There was a skinny and unattractive barmaid with buck teeth who poured our drinks and a hotelier who guzzled beer, listened to the Beatles, and told us at a volume 3 times louder than required how he plays the shamisen, a Japanese stringed musical instrument. In times past he had been a sushi chef but now serves less fish on his menu.

One young teacher who was staying in the hotel with his family told me -- after I pointedly asked him -- that people in the northeastern region were still very worried about the nuclear situation. “Very worried.”

The long day ended after walking many miles and drinking gallons of sake, and ten thousand jokes between me and Yoichi about the hopeless state of Japan with its nuclear nightmare and lack of public motivation to solve the problem. That night I slept peacefully in a radiation-free zone with the beautiful sounds of the ocean roaring just outside my window, the waves washing my troubles away.

* Part two of this article will be a photo-essay of the trip to Fukushima. I will offer more technical analysis of the affect on plants from radiation.

Richard Wilcox holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Studies from a social science, holistic perspective. He teaches at a number of universities in the Tokyo, Japan area. His articles on environmental topics including the Fukushima nuclear disaster are archived at and are regularly published at Activist Post and His interviews with Jeff Rense are available at the website Wilcox can be contacted at


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