KAWAMATA, FUKUSHIMA PREF. – A rice paddy skating rink close to the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant is expected to reopen this month, five years after the public last scudded about on it.
It is located in the Yamakiya district of the town of Kawamata, a settlement in Fukushima Prefecture whose inhabitants remain evacuated over radiation fears.
Yamakiya is only 30 to 40 kilometers from the nuclear plant. It suffered major population loss: 1,185 residents, or 557 households, fled their homes and sought accommodation elsewhere. Kawamata aims to have the evacuation order for the district lifted this spring.
The rink’s reopening has people excited.
“I’m trying to make sure children can skate safely when they come here,” said Hidekazu Ouchi, 67, vice chairman of a skating club that manages the rink. He was speaking as he worked to level out the rice paddy with a blade attached to a power shovel.
Kawamata first created the rink in 1984. It was made every year by allowing water to ice up on 50 acres of paddy left idle after the harvest is over.
Water is sprayed on the land and it ices up in Fukushima’s frigid winter temperatures.
It was used by local schools in particular. In January and February, elementary and junior high schools in the area would head there for physical education classes.
The rink was abandoned after the March 2011 triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station forced residents to evacuate the town.
Late last April, however, decontamination work was completed in the area. As radiation levels are now below 1 millisievert, which is the central government’s long-term goal for a person’s annual radiation exposure, the skating club decided to reopen the paddy rink.
“I never thought the rink would be revived,” said a 61-year-old woman who evacuated from the Yamakiya district. “I’m happy.”
But a woman whose children go to local elementary and junior high schools said with a touch of anxiety, “I’m worried about the impact of radiation.”
Having completed weeding the rice field, filling it with water and leveling out the soil, the skating club is now waiting for the water to freeze.
“By bringing back the liveliness to Yamakiya, I’m hoping to see the momentum of reconstruction get rolling,” Ouchi said.