Fukushima – Nearly a decade since the March 2011 tsunami swept Fukushima Prefecture and other parts of northern Japan, dozens of officers from police forces nationwide are still dispatched to Fukushima every year to search for 196 people still unaccounted for after the disaster.
They are dubbed the “Ultra Police Force,” a name coined by the late Eiji Tsuburaya, founder of the popular TV program “Ultraman” and a native of Sukagawa, Fukushima Prefecture.
“What we can do right now is search for them every day,” one of the police officers said.
On July 10, about 20 police officers, including Tsukasa Shimizu, 29, who was dispatched in April from the Yamanashi Prefectural Police, combed the beach in the village of Futaba, which is designated a no-go zone, with its annual radiation level topping 50 millisieverts following the meltdowns at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Since February 2012, about 1,750 police officers have been sent for a year at a time to the Fukushima Prefectural Police. During the height of the search, in fiscal 2011 and the year after, 350 officers were dispatched annually. But now the figure is down to 61 this fiscal year.
Shimizu and seven other police officers were added to the team at Futaba Police Station, which oversees the towns of Futaba and Okuma, where the Fukushima No.1 plant is located, in April. They patrol the streets of the no-go zone every day and search the shores.
“I wanted to see how it is in Fukushima after 10 years with my very own eyes and do what I could to help,” said Shimizu, explaining the reason for his request to be dispatched to Fukushima.
About 35 percent of the area under his jurisdiction is still a no-go zone. Newly built homes and restaurants have turned to ruins, and weeds cover playgrounds and parks.
For a month after the disaster, police were unable to conduct a large-scale search for those unaccounted for due to the nuclear meltdowns. Since then, levees have been built along the shore and rubble cleared out, making it hard for any new evidence to be found.
Since 2016, when they found the partial remains of a seven-year-old girl in Okuma, their searches have been fruitless.
“Years have passed, and it’s getting difficult to find any clues that would lead to those unaccounted for,” said Kota Saimon, 25, a police officer from Ishikawa Prefectural Police, as he searched the beach. “I’m troubled, but we won’t find anything if we don’t look.”
The prefectural police forces of Iwate and Miyagi stopped accepting police officers from across the nation a few years ago. But Fukushima, where the effects of the nuclear disaster are still evident, will continue to accept officers in the next fiscal year.