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After Fukushima, part 3

Almost all the shops are closed in the village of Harimichi, the streets nearly empty. Harimichi (in Towa town, Nihonmatsu district) has not been officially evacuated. It is fifteen miles west of the Fukushima Exclusion Zone. Nevertheless, most residents have left, afraid of radiation. The public school was closed for the year due to suddenly low enrollment.
Many times as I passed through Harimichi, going into the Zone, the gas station was the only business open. I made a point to buy gas there—it seemed the least I could do.

After Chernobyl, the Ukrainian government designated five categories of victims. These classifications are useful in thinking about how differently people experience a nuclear disaster. In Ukraine, each affected group is still entitled to differing amounts of monthly government benefits, based on their perceived exposure:
  1. Evacuees. Most evacuees were permanently displaced. The boundaries of the four different zones have changed over the years. A few evacuees later returned home; others were not relocated until a several years after the accident.
  2. Residents of contaminated areas. Of course, radiation does not end at the edge of the Exclusion Zone, and those living nearby still experience low levels of radiation.
  3. Invalids—that is, people disabled or made ill due to the radiation.
  4. Liquidators—the workers (mostly men) conscripted or who volunteered to decontaminate the nuclear plant and surrounding territory.
  5. The children of the above categories, some of whom have serious health problems.
  6. In my After Chernobyl project I added one more group who do not receive benefits (but do earn higher wages): Current Chernobyl workers, both those employed at the Chernobyl plant and those working in the Exclusion Zone.
Any individual’s actual exposure to radiation is unknowable. So for a bureaucracy, these categories serve as a practical but arbitrary way to group victims.

I found these classifications a useful framework for understanding stories from Chernobyl. In Japan I heard the same kinds of stories — like evacuee Kaori Sekine, still living in temporary housing, and farmer Kazuo Nakamura who can’t find anyone to buy his rice. 

In later posts I’ll tell more of these personal stories. Tomorrow: life goes on in Fukushima city

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