Award-winning mayor of Fukushima village says always prepare for worst

Kyodo

Masahide Matsumoto, mayor of Katsurao, Fukushima Prefecture, said upon receiving a disaster response award from the United Nations this month that the worst-case scenario should always guide one’s thinking when preparing for and responding to emergencies.

The 75-year-old mayor received the 2013 Green Star Award from Green Cross International, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the U.N. Environment Program, for his leadership in the early days of the Fukushima nuclear crisis in March 2011.

“I was surprised when I found out about the award and thought ‘Why me?’ ” he said.

In the aftermath of the March 11 quake and tsunami that set off explosions at Fukushima No. 1, Matsumoto told all residents to evacuate the village, which is about 20 km from the nuclear plant.

His prompt decision, made without waiting for the central government’s evacuation order, saved 1,600 residents from being exposed to heavy doses of radiation because additional explosions just hours later left the entire village shrouded in a radioactive plume.

“The evacuation was harder than I had imagined, but I put the top priority on protecting my people,” he said at the award ceremony Sept. 2 in Geneva. “The village used to be a peaceful and safe place, but the accident changed everything forever.”

Matsumoto said he decided to evacuate without waiting for word from Tokyo because “I assumed the worst possible scenario and thought we can always go back if there is no serious damage.”

He said the most important thing he learned from the crisis is that “we should not play down any accident or disaster and we always need to be prepared for the worst.”