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After Fukushima, part 6

Mie Nagai volunteers with the Japan Cat Network in the Fukushima Exclusion Zone. Each week, volunteers drive into the Zone, feeding abandoned cats and dogs left behind when their owners evacuated from Namie town. Some cats are brought back to a shelter in Inawashiro where the group searches for people to adopt them.

What is true?

After Chernobyl, they shot dogs. Soldiers went around to abandoned villages, killing pets and guard dogs to prevent them from spreading radiation or rabies.

After Fukushima, they feed the dogs. And cats. Several different non-profits travel through the empty villages outside the Exclusion Zone; some have temporary permission to enter the 30-Kilometer Zone to feed or catch strays.

During my time in Chernobyl and Fukushima, I heard a lot of unbelievable stories. Some of them impossible, some improbable, yet many of them true.

It happens during any disaster: reports contradict, rumors fly, official statements don’t mesh with personal experiences. It’s clear why this happens. In a crisis, the situation changes constantly. News agencies scramble to tell what they know, piecemeal, because no one yet has the big picture. Government officials mislead or are just poorly informed. Even the eyewitnesses have selective memories, clouded by fear and adrenaline. Then the gossip starts, hyperbolic, opinionated, pointing fingers.

Before long a consensus story emerges, but there is little reason to trust it, built as it is on assumptions and half-truths. Now, two years later, these beliefs start to congeal into history, accurate or not. It’s a wonder we ever know anything about anything.

Here is one tale I heard repeatedly in Fukushima. I haven’t been able to confirm it, but it fascinates me. I share it with the caveat that it may be false. In many evacuated places in Fukushima Prefecture, the story goes, residents were not required to leave. They were advised to evacuate but never forced. Since Japanese culture esteems social harmony and conformity, I was told, most people did whatever was asked, or what their neighbors did, and left.

(How do refugees decide to stay or go? I hope some sociologist is studying this. I want to know.)

In contrast, in Ukraine, some residents fought to stay. Ordered by the police and military to evacuate, many refused. Over 2,000 villagers snuck back into the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and have lived the remainder of their lives there.

Outrageous? I’m wary of reporting unverified stories from Fukushima because I myself don’t know what to believe. Instead, here is a:

QUICK QUIZ: True or False:
1. After the Chernobyl accident, conscripts removed radioactive debris using nothing more than shovels and wheelbarrows.
2. People steal radioactive radiators from the Chernobyl zone to sell for scrap metal.
3. Last month, a section of roof at the Chernobyl plant collapsed due to heavy snow.

Answers Monday. Tomorrow: what is dangerous?

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