Ryuichi Hirokawa, a Japanese photojournalist, has documented the world’s two worst nuclear crises — in Chernobyl three decades ago, and the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.
With this year marking the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, Hirokawa, 72, has released a photo book titled “Chernobyl and Fukushima” compiling his reports on the lives of victims of the catastrophes.
After years of reporting on the two disasters, Hirokawa said he has concluded that nuclear power “is not something human beings can handle or control.”
Born in 1943 in a Japanese community in Tianjin, China, Hirokawa was the first non-Soviet journalist to enter the Exclusion Zone following the accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in April 1986.
He has since visited the area more than 50 times and established in April 1991 a foundation for children suffering from leukemia, thyroid cancer and other diseases caused by exposure to a high level of radiation, in response to requests from their mothers.
The foundation has provided these children with medicine and medical equipment and also built recuperation facilities in Ukraine and Belarus.
One of the photos from Hirokawa’s book shows a 14-year-old Ukrainian girl named Tanya lying on a bed at her home. She was 4 years old and lived in a town close to the Chernobyl plant when the disaster occurred.
A decade later, she suddenly felt agonizing pain all over her body. Her thyroid cancer had spread, including to her brain.
“I could do nothing for the girl. All I could do was watch her die,” Hirokawa said. “It was that feeling of helplessness that drove me to support sick children there.”
A quarter of a century later, another devastating nuclear disaster occurred at Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings’ Fukushima No. 1 plant.
When Hirokawa rushed to the scene shortly after the calamity started, the needle of his radiation detector went off the scale in surrounding areas, including in the town of Futaba and the village of Iitate.
“It was shocking because it never happened even in Chernobyl,” he said.
Maps comparing radiation levels in Chernobyl and Fukushima, which he attached at the end of his book, show that radiation levels detected in still inhabited areas in Fukushima are almost the same as those in ruined Chernobyl villages.
“I can’t tolerate the Japanese government’s policy of allowing children to stay in areas contaminated by such high levels of radiation,” he said.
He has also worked to halt operations of the Sendai nuclear plant in Satsumasendai, Kagoshima Prefecture, in the wake of a series of strong earthquakes in Kyushu in April.
Hirokawa sent a petition to Kyushu Electric Power Co. calling on the utility to immediately halt the Sendai plant, which is the only nuclear plant operating in Japan.