[…]That’s what one filmmaker discovered in 2011 when he heard of a group of former farmers in Fukushima’s nuclear exclusion zone, fighting to keep their radiation-affected cows alive, though they brought them no profit.
“The farmers think of these cows as family. They know that these cows can’t be sold, but they don’t want to kill them just because they’re not worth anything,” Tamotsu Matsubara, who made a film called ‘Nuclear Cattle’ (Hibaku Ushi) on their plight, told CNN.
The farmers — who return two or three times a week to their former farms — initially kept their cows alive just out of love. But since 2013, Keiji Okada, an animal science expert at Iwate University, has been carrying out tests on them.
Okada established the Society for Animal Refugee & Environment post-Nuclear Disaster, a non-profit with researchers from Kitazato, Tohoku and Tokyo university. The researchers are funded through their universities, and say their project is the first to look into the effects of radiation on large animals.
“Large mammals are different to bugs and small birds, the genes affected by radiation exposure can repair more easily that it’s hard to see the effects of radiation,” Okada, told CNN.
“We really need to know what levels of radiation have a dangerous effect on large mammals and what levels don’t,” he added.
So far, the cows living within the exclusion zone haven’t shown signs of leukemia or cancer — two diseases usually associated with high levels of radiation exposure. Some, however, have white spots on their hides. Their human minders suspect that these are the side-effects of radiation exposure.
While some farmers have slowly started to rebuild their lives by starting new businesses in decontaminated areas in Fukushima, the campaign to keep alive irradiated cows within the exclusion zone continues.
“These cows are the witnesses of the nuclear accident,” Masami Yoshikawa, who lives in Namie town in the heart of the exclusion zone, states in Nuclear Cattle.
“They’re the cows of hope.”