11 Mars 2016
March 10, 2016
By KAZUAKI HAGI/ Staff Writer
Kazuya Tarukawa, a farmer in Sukagawa, Fukushima Prefecture, found himself in the media spotlight after his father committed suicide in the early stages of the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
In a recent interview with The Asahi Shimbun, Tarukawa recounted how his gratifying life as a farmer drastically changed on March 11, 2011.
He also shared his thoughts on the compensation system, rumors about Fukushima products, and how Tokyo Electric Power Co. sent him a fax instead of a direct apology for his father’s death.
Excerpts of the interview follow:
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Question: What are things like five years after the disaster started?
Tarukawa: Radioactive materials fell on this central strip of Fukushima Prefecture, too. Rice paddies, farm fields and plastic greenhouses were all ruined, so our “workplaces” were contaminated. But Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the crippled nuclear plant, has not compensated us for lost assets or removed the radioactive substances.
Five years have passed, and that’s it. We have only sustained damage and suffering. I keep asking myself, “Why do we have to go through all this?”
We did receive 80,000 yen ($706) in the first year of the disaster and 40,000 yen in the second year for psychological suffering, but that was all. The thinking behind the payments was probably like, “Here’s 120,000 yen, so keep your mouth shut and wait for the radiation levels to go down on their own.”
How can that make up for the damage we sustained?
Q: I have been told that your father was dedicated to organic farming of vegetables. Could you elaborate?
A: He cared a lot about the environment. He began growing winter cabbage because you never get worms, even without a single disinfection, in winter. The cabbage grows under the snow and develops quite a sweet taste. All local schools were using our cabbage in their school lunches.
He was so happy to be feeding children with something really safe and tasty. He was once invited by school officials to give a talk about food education. He was proud of things like that.
He hanged himself on the morning the day after the central government told him to stop shipping his vegetables. Around 7,500 pre-harvest cabbages were ruined. His farmland was contaminated. His heart was probably heavy while he was wondering how he would get on with his life.
Q: You reached a settlement in the case through the intermediary of the Nuclear Damage Compensation Dispute Resolution Center, whereby TEPCO acknowledged a causal relation with the disaster. Could you elaborate on that?
A: I took the case to the center because I wanted to avenge my father so he would not die in vain. I finally won the settlement and received damages. I thought that TEPCO people would finally come to my place to offer incense and apologize. But that never happened. I got a fax instead.
Q: How is the cleanup work going?
A: Our rice paddies were cleaned up. The ground was plowed to about 40 centimeters using a big tractor, sprinkled with zeolite and then plowed again. We were told that the zeolite will absorb radioactive substances in the soil, and that’s the cleanup thing.
But it doesn’t make sense. Rice may stop pulling up radioactive materials, but the absolute amount in the soil remains the same.
We are toiling every day from morning until evening on contaminated soil. We are filled with anxiety about what will become of us in the future, and whether we might suffer the impact someday.
When we were negotiating with the central government, I repeatedly asked farm ministry officials on the podium: “Do you know the first kanji in the Japanese word for ‘cleanup?’ (The kanji means “remove.”) You are just stirring things up. How can that amount to a ‘cleanup?’”
Everyone then cast their eyes low at their documents. They must have thought I was right.
Q: Isn’t there a way to strip away the contaminated surface soil?
A: We would be luckier if only there was a way to strip it off in thin slices. But in the month after the disaster started, the prefectural government gave us directions, saying it was OK to plow the ground. I didn’t quite believe in that stuff, but everybody did plow the ground.
We shouldn’t have done the plowing thing back then. They could have told us to stop growing crops for a year, and you will be compensated for that. That was a big moment when the sides parted.
It’s easy to strip off soil with a machine. But if you remove 40 cm of soil, you wouldn’t get decent crops. It takes tens of years to make just 1 cm of fine, fluffy soil.
I stick to what I am doing because I don’t want to let my rice paddies go to ruin during my time, the time of the eighth generation.
The paddies would quickly go to ruin if you didn’t do anything about them and just let them lie around. That would also cause trouble with your neighbors. Come to think of it, if you didn’t grow anything, you also wouldn’t be getting compensation money, and you would be left without income. You couldn’t maintain your living.
Q: What compensation are you getting for the farm products you grow?
A: We are only being compensated for crops with records of sale and proof that we suffered damage. For example, if you sold something at 2,000 yen before the disaster but now are making only 1,500 yen from it, TEPCO will compensate you for the difference.
But we have not been compensated for cucumbers for the past two years because their prices soared due to the unseasonable weather. People are saying stuff like, “We are not paying you because you are selling them at higher prices than you did before the disaster.”
It’s funny, huh? We would be making more money if it were not for the disaster. We are getting less than in other prefectures. You know, TEPCO is loath to shell out money.
And there are so many things that we have no way to seek damages for. Things that will never be with us again. We used to grow shiitake mushrooms at our homestead every year for consumption. Butterbur sprouts and Japanese angelica tree shoots from the mountains--they have all been spoiled. But we are getting nothing for that.
Q: What about the impact of negative publicity?
A: The 2011 harvest of rice from our paddies measured up to 30 becquerels or so in radioactive content. That was a safe enough level because the regulation standard was 500 becquerels (per kilogram; 100 becquerels from fiscal 2012) or less. But it’s something that you are putting in your mouth, after all.
Frankly, I didn’t want to eat it myself. Well, I did eat it because I couldn’t have gone shopping elsewhere.
But I do have a sense of guilt about making shipments. So I know very well why Tokyoites don’t feel like eating things from Fukushima. Who would want to buy stuff to eat from a place with such a stupid old nuclear plant?
It’s not about “negative publicity.” You suffer from “negative publicity” when your sales have dropped because groundless rumors have spread. But our case is not like that. Everything is well-grounded. The radioactive materials actually fell.
Q: Do they still continue to be detected?
A: No radioactive materials were detected in rice last year and the year before last. In fact, we have done everything we can. We are spraying potassium chloride, which suppresses the absorption of radioactive substances, every year.
All bags of rice are being screened, and when you get measurement figures, you are not allowed to ship them. I believe that rice from Fukushima is now much safer than rice from other prefectures.
And our rice is selling well, in fact, in the restaurant industry and in hospitals because you may never know that the product is from Fukushima Prefecture. You may not see a lot on the surface, but vast quantities are on the move. Because Fukushima rice tastes good. It’s sticky and sweet. So restaurant industry people seem to be happy because they can buy tasty rice at cheap prices.
Q: What about vegetables?
A: Greenhouses were under plastic covers at the time of the disaster, so the soil in there was never contaminated. I decided to grow everything in greenhouses, so I have almost stopped growing things outdoors, including cabbage, because I don’t want to see measurement figures in my crops again.
I am now growing broccoli, but the prices are so cheap, beaten down. Urbanites don’t bother to differentiate between broccoli grown in greenhouses and those grown in open fields as long as they are from Fukushima Prefecture.
Q: Nuclear reactors are being brought back online these days. Your thoughts?
A: Japan remained free of nuclear power for some time. But look, was there any part of Japan where everything was pitch-dark at night during that time? We certainly had enough electricity.
We may have paid more for crude oil, and nuclear power may be cheaper in fuel costs. But think about it: How much do you have to pay to clean up after a disaster when one happens? It’s really a burden. What would become of this country if another nuclear plant were to fail somewhere? You could raise taxes, but would that be the end of it?
Q: With whom do you want to share your feelings now?
A: I could be better off if I didn’t raise my voice and kept silent. But I am somebody in the media spotlight because of my father. There are hosts of other farmers who feel like I do, that something is wrong. It’s not in my power, after all, to hold my voice about such feelings. Doing that is dishonest.
That’s why I decided to appear in the movie (“Daichi wo Uketsugu” (Taking over Mother Earth), a 2015 documentary directed by Junichi Inoue). I particularly want farmers in areas hosting nuclear plants to watch this film. I want them to know what will happen when there is a disaster.
My father used to say: “Human-made things will certainly fail someday. Nothing can stand the forces of nature.” And things have turned out exactly like that. And after five years, nobody has taken responsibility.
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Born in 1975, Kazuya Tarukawa worked for a company in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, after graduating from a university. He returned to his family home in Sukagawa, 65 kilometers from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, 10 years ago to engage in farming.