Makiyasu Matsumoto, 82, worries he may never be able to return to his hometown of Futaba, which was rendered uninhabitable by the wrecked Fukushima No. 1 power plant.
“I want to go back, because Futaba has been my home almost all my life. But I might have to give up on my hopes, considering the present situation,” Matsumoto said at an evacuation center where he now lives in Kazo, Saitama Prefecture.
The center was set up in what used to be Kisai High School. Matsumoto has been there for almost two years since first seeking refuge in Saitama Super Arena after the March 11, 2011, quake and tsunami triggered three core meltdowns at the power plant.
The radioactive fallout eventually forced the entire town to evacuate. Two weeks later, more than 200 of its residents had ended up in Kazo, along with Futaba’s municipal office. Nearly two years later, they are still living in classrooms and other parts of the four-story building — including the former science lab.
“When I was in Futaba, three generations of my family lived in the same house. Now, we are scattered all over the place,” Matsumoto said. “I live here, my son, a town official, lives in a rented house with his wife in Kazo, and my grandchildren are back in Fukushima because they found jobs in Shirakawa.”
Matsumoto’s large home back in Futaba survived the 9.0-magnitude Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing tsunami intact, but no one in the family expects to return and resume their former lives because of the intense fallout that rained down on the area.
“I know that I can’t go back because of the radiation levels, but I can’t move anywhere else either because I haven’t received any compensation money yet. I wish the government would deal with the issue soon, so that we know where we’re heading,” Matsumoto said.
Futaba Mayor Katsutaka Idogawa resigned in January after the municipal assembly passed a no-confidence motion against him, arguing he had failed to negotiate forcefully or skillfully enough with the central government to win compensation for the residents.
The opinions on Idogawa vary. While some accuse him of being an inadequate mayor and failing to win swift compensation, others recall how he put priority on the residents’ health and tried to get the government to investigate how the fallout would affect them.
Idogawa also tried to coordinate a unified evacuation as the government prepared to quarantine the town. That plan stalled after he resigned.
A vote to elect his successor will be held at the end of the month.
“Futaba evacuees are so worried, because the government has not come up with a plan for the town yet, especially regarding compensation and housing,” said Muneshige Osumi, head of public relations at Futaba’s municipal office.
“People don’t realize what it means for people to lose their hometown. It took several hundred years to create Futaba, yet it does not exist anymore. It’s all gone,” he said.
“Even if the level of radiation decreases in the future, we cannot go back to the town anymore, and if we merge with another municipality like Iwaki in Fukushima Prefecture, it would mean borrowing the institutions that city already has.
“We can’t remake our own unique town. We lost the best treasure we had. Futaba may have been inconveniently located, but we had beautiful nature, food and clean water,” Osumi lamented.
“I now realize that was the best life I ever had. Leading a normal life is the most important thing, and we can’t go back to it anymore.”