FUKUSHIMA – Retired schoolteacher Hidefumi Owada feels helpless whenever he returns to his deserted home in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture.
Abandoned following the meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, it is now derelict and the garden is overgrown.
“I feel miserable whenever I return home for a brief visit . . . I don’t want to see it anymore,” said the 81-year-old, who is a keen gardener, pointing at the messy yard.
Owada is one of the 130,000 people who continue to live in temporary housing elsewhere. He moved to Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, late last year from Kitakata, where he and his wife had taken refuge after the nuclear crisis.
Their former home is about 8 kilometers from the crippled nuclear power plant. Radiation levels remain higher than the government declares is safe, so residents can make only brief visits — making it impossible for Owada tend the garden.
Adding to his bitterness, he feels the anti-nuclear activism he was involved in for more than four decades proved futile.
After graduating from university, Owada was assigned to teach social science at a junior high school in Kitakata, Fukushima Prefecture, in 1956. He happened to find a book at a local bookstore which, though supportive of nuclear power, pointed out that it was impossible to secure radioactive waste or to rule out radiation leaks.
Owada was transferred to a junior high school in Tomioka, in the Hamadori coastal district of Fukushima Prefecture, in 1961. He remained at schools in that area before retiring at the age of 54.
Hamadori became home to nuclear power plants because of overwhelming local support. The plants offered employment, and the central government promoted them as required investments for the national economy
Subsidies and grants meant Hamadori received well appointed public facilities and workers found jobs. Atomic power plants appeared to represent development.
Stunned by what he was reading, however, Owada got more and more involved in the anti-nuclear movement. He was convinced that nuclear power plants represented a sacrifice by local residents. After retirement, he became a farmer and at that time he came to head a local anti-nuclear group.
The group would meet Tokyo Electric Power Co. almost every month to discuss safety concerns. But the utility refused to undertake costly safety measures such as moving emergency diesel power generators from the basement to the second floor.
He believes this failure by Tepco to adopt appropriate safety measures “invited the accident.”
Owada says his activism draws on an example set by one of his relatives. During the Meiji Era (1868-1912), a human rights movement blossomed especially in Fukushima and Kochi prefectures. Nakae Kariyado (1854-1907) was one of the leaders of the movement in Fukushima, and Owada is one of his descendants.
Kariyado was arrested on three occasions and was even tortured by police. But later he got the chance to influence public life when he became a member of the prefectural assembly.
When police arrived to arrest Kariyado for the first time in 1882, for organizing protests with farmers ordered to work on road construction, he made them wait outside his home and wrote this message for his followers: “Freedom! Oh freedom! I will die with you.”
Owada drew strength from this.
“I was encouraged by the fact that I have an ancestor who was committed to his beliefs,” he said. “I decided to carry on with anti-nuclear campaigning as my own civil rights movement.”
In 1964, the Atomic Energy Commission decided that areas within a certain distance of a nuclear reactor should be declared non-residential, and should be surrounded by a low-population zone. In addition, the commission said power plants could not be built within a certain distance of major population centers.
Owada believes those principles in effect acknowledged the dangers posed by nuclear power facilities and therefore discriminated against villagers by allowing plants to be built in low-population areas.
“Nuclear power is an industry that exists at somebody’s expense, and it neglects human rights,” he said.