By KEITARO FUKUCHI/ Staff Writer
February 14, 2022 at 07:00 JST
FUTABA, Fukushima Prefecture--The town where Yuji Onuma in his youth dreamed up a slogan promoting the "bright future" that nuclear power promised remains deserted and a shell of its former self.
But Onuma, 45, is now hoping to pass along a different message to his sons of the dangers of nuclear power, as he plans to continue visiting his former home after more than a decade away.
Evacuees from this town, cohost to the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, are being allowed to stay overnight at their homes for the first time in 11 years since the nuclear disaster.
The temporary stays are ahead of a full return envisaged in the limited area of Futaba in summer this year. Futaba is the only municipality where all residents remain evacuated.
OVERNIGHT STAY REKINDLES MEMORIES
An Asahi Shimbun reporter accompanied Onuma, his wife and their two sons as they returned home from Jan. 29 through 30 on a “preparatory overnight stay” program that started on Jan. 20.
Around noon on Jan. 29, Onuma was in the Konokusa district of Futaba, 6 kilometers to the northwest of the nuclear plant, with his wife and two sons.
The district is designated a “difficult-to-return” zone, where an evacuation order remains in place because of the high levels of radiation from the triple meltdown at the plant, and is outside the area for the preparatory stay program.
Houses in the district were seen with entrances closed off with barricades.
“Damage from the nuclear disaster is not always easy to see, but I still want you to know something about it,” he told his family as they walked along a street.
Onuma pointed to a barbershop that he used to go to as a young boy. He also pointed to the home of a classmate and a road he would take to go to a driving school.
“There were people’s livelihoods in every single one of these houses before we were evacuated,” he told his family members in the midst of the totally deserted landscape.
The abrupt shout came from Yusei, the oldest of Onuma’s sons. Right before the eyes of the 10-year-old was a house that was flattened by the massive tremor of the Great East Japan Earthquake, which triggered a tsunami and the nuclear disaster, on March 11, 2011.
A rainwater drainage pipe covered with moss was seen lying on the ground. A tree was spotted growing through an opening between the tiles of the house’s roof.
Difficult-to-return zones account for more than 90 percent of the landmass of Futaba, where no one has yet returned to live. Ties with fellow townspeople have grown so thin that Onuma learned about the deaths of his neighbors and a classmate only through an information bulletin of the town government.
“It’s so sad,” Onuma said. “I could have offered incense for them if only it had not been for the nuclear disaster.”
The preparatory overnight stay program started in the area designated a "specified reconstruction and revitalization base," where the evacuation order is expected to be lifted in June.
In the designated area, many houses have been demolished. Onuma’s home stands alone, surrounded by empty lots.
Onuma also had planned to have his home demolished, as no elementary school or junior high school was likely to be reopened any time soon.
What the youngest of his sons said changed his mind. Onuma quoted 8-year-old Yusho as saying, when the family was visiting Futaba last March, “I like Futaba. I want to come to Futaba again.”
Encouraged by his son’s remarks, Onuma in April began improving the living conditions at his home, including tidying it up and decontaminating it.
He said he hopes to keep returning here with his family during summer vacations and on other occasions so he can see how the community will continue changing in the future.
ARCHITECT OF FUTABA’S ONCE PROUD SLOGAN
An overhead signboard once greeted visitors to a central shopping street in Futaba’s downtown area. It carried a slogan saying, “Nuclear power is the energy of a bright future,” which Onuma submitted when he was an elementary school pupil to win a local competition.
Being the author of the iconic slogan was, for some time following the nuclear disaster, a source of distress for Onuma.
He once thought that atomic energy could be entrusted to provide people's power needs for the future. However, in the twinkling of an eye, the nuclear accident changed the lives of so many people.
Onuma said he has a different view of nuclear power now.
“I have to tell my children everything, including my own ‘error,’ so the same thing will never be repeated,” Onuma said.
He planted pansies, which can mean “remembrance” in the language of flowers, on a flower bed outside his home.
“I hope to convey pre-disaster remembrances of Futaba to my children,” he said. “And I also hope to go on creating new ‘remembrances’ in this town, where the clocks have stood still for 10 years and 10 months and counting.”
EVACUATION ORDER MAY BE LIFTED IN JUNE
Futaba was home to 7,140 residents when the quake and tsunami struck. The town remains totally evacuated due to the nuclear disaster that resulted, and its residents are taking shelter across 42 of Japan's 47 prefectures.
Part of Futaba’s difficult-to-return zones has been designated a specified reconstruction and revitalization base. The town government is hoping to have the evacuation order lifted in the reconstruction base area in June.
The preparatory overnight stay program, which allows evacuees who want to return to spend the night at their homes in advance to prepare for their lives there, started in Futaba on Jan. 20.
Many townspeople of Futaba, in the meantime, have rebuilt their lives in other communities to which they have evacuated. Only 19 individuals from 13 households had applied for a preparatory overnight stay by Jan. 27, with Onuma’s two sons being the only minors among them.
The town government has set the goal of having 2,000 residents, including new settlers, five years after the evacuation order is lifted.
When parties including the Reconstruction Agency and the town government took a survey last year, however, some 60 percent of Futaba’s residents said they had decided against returning, and only about 10 percent said they wished to return.
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