Sumio Konno used to invite neighborhood children and their parents to a barbeque in his garden, overlooking a forest and a pond where water birds would come and go.
“We would often get together and grill fish, mushrooms and freshly dug bamboo shoots. It was the epitome of a wonderful life,” recalled Konno, a former nuclear plant worker, of his old home in rural, north-eastern Japan.
“We believe residents can now live free from anxiety as decontamination work has been completed,” he added.
However, local officials have acknowledged that high levels of radiation are readily detected in forests and mountain areas, where clean-up operations were never conducted.
Konno, his wife and their 15-year-old son have now squeezed themselves into an apartment in the city of Fukushima, 70 kilometres north-west of the crippled nuclear plant. He has not seen any of the neighborhood children again since the nuclear disaster.
“I miss them so much,” he said.
Lying in a virtually empty residential area of Namie, Konno’s two-story house was demolished in September due to radiation contamination.
Isogai moved from Fukushima to the city of Niigata, on the Sea of Japan coast in 2012, after her two teenage daughters suffered nosebleeds and developed rashes on their bodies following the nuclear disaster.
The disaster came?two years after the family’s long-awaited house was built.
Isogai, who unsuccessfully ran for a Niigata Prefectural Assembly seat last year, recalled some men asked her why she became a candidate, saying, “you are a mere woman.”
More than 90 per cent of the Assembly’s seats are occupied by men.
Isogai is among tens of thousands of so-called “voluntary” evacuees who fled areas not designated as mandatory evacuation zones. They have received little compensation from the Fukushima plant’s operator.
In 2017, the prefectural government stopped giving housing subsidies to such evacuees, which critics say has worsened their plight.
A limited number of vocal evacuees such as Konno and Isogai have also been subject to online attacks.
“I’m aware that I have been the subject of online vitriol,” Konno said. “But, I tell you the facts about the nuclear disaster. I will continue to talk about what really took place here in Fukushima. If I don’t, the government will sweep the whole thing under the rug.” (DPA)