Photo/IllutrationHiroyuki Endo at his solar farm in Kagoshima in 2015 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

KAGOSHIMA--Like so many others, Hiroyuki Endo was forced to abandon his home and evacuate with his family to the other side of Japan in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear crisis in March 2011.

In his case, the harrowing experience inspired him to start work on a solar farm here as an alternative to living with nuclear power.

Endo died before he could fulfill his dream, suffering a brain hemorrhage at the age of 50.

However, his wife Chiyomi, 47, and other relatives continue to work on the ambitious project that he started in the firm belief of a safer alternative to nuclear power.

Born and raised in Futaba, which co-hosts the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co., Endo from his early 20s was involved in maintenance, repair and sales promotion work at the facility and elsewhere.

When he watched television footage of the March 14, 2011, hydrogen explosion at the No. 3 reactor building from an evacuation center, he urged his wife to flee immediately with their eldest son and daughter, both junior high school students, and their 15-month-old son to Kagoshima, where Chiyomi's relatives lived.

Believing that "only those who worked at the plant will be of any use," Endo returned to Fukushima Prefecture later in the month to help out at the stricken facility.

After facing radiation levels as high as 2 millisieverts per minute at the crippled plant, he soon reached the maximum exposure limit and returned to his family several months later.

The place the had called home, just 2 kilometers from the Fukushima facility, was "taken over by the nuclear plant," as Endo put it, leading him to conclude that Japan does not need nuclear power.

Acting on this thought, Endo started building a solar farm with a projected output capacity of 330 kilowatts in Kagoshima, more than 1,000 km from his hometown.

Chiyomi, their eldest son and Endo's parents all pitched in on the project.

Just before the facility was completed, with the installation of solar panels, Endo came down with what he thought was a migraine attack at home on May 12, 2016.

In fact, it was a cerebral hemorrhage, and he died after he was taken to a hospital by an ambulance.

As his second son was just 6 years old at the time, Chiyomi found herself "at a loss over where to start." She decided to take over the business, and with the help of her in-laws, completed the construction work that autumn.

In early August of this year, Chiyomi, along with the eldest son and daughter, who are now grown up and live away, visited the home where they had lived in Futaba, as it is slated to be demolished. It stands on the planned construction site designated by the Environment Ministry as an intermediate storage facility for radioactive debris.

Inside the residence, Chiyomi came across a calendar frozen with the month of March 2011, and the eldest son's junior high school graduation diploma.

The graduation ceremony was held on March 11 that year, the day the magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake generated towering tsunami that knocked out cooling systems at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, triggering a triple meltdown. The disaster claimed nearly 16,000 lives in the northeastern Tohoku region.

"It's our last opportunity (to see our home), and I just had to see it one last time," said Chiyomi as she locked the front door when leaving.

After Endo's death, the family grave marker was relocated to near the solar farm in Kagoshima that Endo had dreamed of seeing come to completion.

The marker bears an inscription, which reads: "Remember that this family was forced to leave its hometown in Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, and restart life here because of the nuclear accident caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami."