We were employees of TEPCO:Part 2

Ten Years with Fukushima

Ten years ago, TEPCO employees were sent to Fukushima to deal with the nuclear accident. At the site of compensation and decontamination, they realize the magnitude of what the company has taken from them. And some of them begin to change their lives drastically out of guilt. Some of them moved to Fukushima and started farming. Some sell their produce to dispel rumors. Others continue to come to Fukushima from Tokyo even after retirement. What did they experience in Fukushima and what did they have to bear? Monologues of 10 years by former employees that have never been tolduntil now.

⭐What is the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Accident?⭐

The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) was hit by an earthquake and tsunami that occurred on March 11, 2011. In the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), the accident was initially classified as Level 5 out of 7 levels, but was later upgraded to Level 7 (serious accident). The Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident are the only two accidents that have been classified as Level 7.

Interviews: Hideki Kitamura (former TEPCO employee in charge of compensation), Yasutomo Nagai (former TEPCO employee in charge of decontamination response), Kazuo Yajima (former TEPCO employee in charge of compensation)

Narration: After returning to Saitama, Yajima began to sigh all the time at home.

Yajima: I’ve been told that you don’t smile as much as you used to. My wife said, “It’s not your fault, so why do you have to do so much?” I told her, “It’s not like that, I’m an employee of TEPCO, and there are people in Fukushima who are going through a lot…

Narration: A year and a half later, Yajima asked to be transferred himself and returned to Fukushima.

Yajima: I felt like I could finally go home. Rather than going to Fukushima, I felt like I was going home.

Interviewer: What was your reaction when you told your wife about the resignation?

Yajima: In her mouth, she was like, “So, you’re going…” but maybe she thought it would be good if he could come back like before.

Narration: Yajima was helping people move, exterminating pests, going up to the roof to put blue sheets on houses that are leaking.

Yajima: I didn’t help because I wanted to be forgiven. If it makes the other person feel a little better, that’s fine.

Narration: After four years in Fukushima, Yajima receives an order to move back to Saitama. At that company, Yajima hears some news. A fellow compensation officer had taken his own life after returning to his original workplace from Fukushima.

Yajima: When I heard that a colleague of mine had taken his own life, I was so shocked that I had to take responsibility for it… (I got stuck for words and fought back tears). He was a person who had the same passion for Fukushima as I did, and we always worked together in the field. We were always on the job site together, working together, and his thoughts were close to mine, so we talked about many things… For his sake, I made up my mind that I had to quit my job and do something for Fukushima.

Narration: At the age of 50, Yajima decided to quit his job and stay in Fukushima. There was one thing that had been bothering Yajima for a long time. Yasuko Haga, who treated him with many dishes. As he left her post, he gradually became distant.

Yajima: After I left Aizuwakamatsu, the person in charge of the grandmother was assigned to another person… If I continued to have a relationship with her, it would naturally be difficult for the person in charge. But this time I was curious, and when I checked, I found out that she had passed away in February. At the time, I thought it was the right thing to do and distanced myself from her, but if I had continued our relationship, she might have been a little more…

Visit to Yasuko Haga’s house

Yajima: Hello. My name is Yajima. I am a former TEPCO employee.

Kazuhito, Haga’s son: Yes.

Yajima: I’m very sorry for the trouble I’ve caused your father and mother (bows deeply)

Kazuhito, Haga’s son: My mother and father are very grateful for your help. Thank you very much.

Moving to the dining room of Haga’s house

Kazuhito, Haga’s son:(Showing a picture of his mother) This is the picture she took right after the evacuation…

Yajima: I miss it…

Kazuhito, Haga’s son: This is the young Mr. Yajima…

Yajima: Oh (smiles)

Narration: Yasuko left a photo of Yajima in her album.

Yajima is led to the Buddhist altar. He covers his face with his hands and cries. He then faces Yasuko’s last photo.

Narration: She was 83 years old. Yasuko ended her life at the evacuation site without returning to her home.

Narration: Ten years have passed since the nuclear accident. There are still seven cities, towns, and villages in the hard-to-return areas where entry is still restricted, and some 20,000 people have not been able to return to their homes. The government has been pushing for nuclear power, and the electric power companies, including TEPCO. In a trial to hold the former management of TEPCO responsible, they were acquitted on the grounds that it was impossible to foresee the huge tsunami. How do we take responsibility for the nuclear power plant accident? The years have passed without any clarity.

NHK News broadcast on June 9, 2021

Announcer:After TEPCO conducted a comprehensive inspection of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Station Unit 7, where TEPCO had completed safety work to restart the plant, and found that some of the work had not been completed, TEPCO found that the work had not been completed in approximately 70 locations.

Narration: Safety work that was supposed to have been completed has not been completed in 72 locations. In addition, TEPCO employees used other people’s ID cards to gain unauthorized access to the central control room. The mistakes are still being repeated without clarifying where the responsibility lies.

Narration: Hideki Kitamura had been in Fukushima for four and a half years for compensation and decontamination. He returned to his hometown in Tokyo, but he made a decision to stay connected to Fukushima. He decided to build a house using wood from Fukushima Prefecture.

Kitamura: Rather than building houses, we started with the idea of using Fukushima products. By living in a house made of Fukushima wood, I want to show the people around me that they can live in a house made of Fukushima wood and that they can choose one. I also want to pass this on to my children and grandchildren.

Interviewer: It sounds like you spent all your retirement money…

Kitamura: The severance pay wasn’t enough for me, so I’m going to start working soon. I’ll manage the money later.

Narration: Kitamura has been commuting to Fukushima once a month from Tokyo.

Kitamura: I can meet the people over there and help them out (smile).

Narration: His partner is a small 110cc motorcycle. However, on this day…

Kitamura: No way, the engine won’t start (laughs).

Kitamura repairing a small motorcycle.

Kitamura’s son, Soichiro: Good morning.

Kitamura: When I was about to go, the 110cc wouldn’t start.

Kitamura’s son, Soichiro: Huh?

Kitamura: (laughs)

Kitamura’s son, Soichiro: Why don’t you take the bullet train then?

Kitamura: Well, yeah (laughs)

Narration: Still, Kitamura does not give up on going by motorcycle. In a hurry, he borrowed his junior’s motorcycle. It’s a six-hour ride north along the national highway.

Kitamura: People laugh at me quite a bit, saying that I don’t have to come…but if (going by motorcycle) spurs communication, then there’s no reason to go by anything else.

Narration: Mr. Satoshi Nagai from Namie Town. Kitamura had known each other since Nagai was evacuated to temporary housing.

Mr. Nagai’s dining room.

Yotsuko, Ms. Nagai’s mother: Hello.

Kitamura: When I visited a temporary housing complex to cut the grass… while I was cutting the grass, I was attacked by bees (laughs).

Yotsuko: That’s right (laughs).

Nagai: Mr. Kitamura comes from Tokyo on his motorcycle, does a lot of mowing at the temporary housing, and leaves when he’s done (laughs). He is a little different from TEPCO employees.

Narration: Mr. Nagai’s hometown, Namie-cho, Ohori, is a difficult-to-return-to area where people are still unable to return due to the nuclear accident.

Nagai: I know that I can’t go home right now, but when people like Kitamura come and talk with me, I can forget about it. I can forget that it’s so hard.

Kitamura: I’d like to meet people of Fukushima. I want to meet them. I couldn’t have a conversation with you at first, but even if you just say, “Hi! I’d be grateful if you could just say, “Hi!”

Interviewer: You keep going to Fukushima, including getting angry at the people there…

Kitamura: That’s right. Of course that’s what I meant.

Narration: In July, Kitamura visited Mr. Nagai’s home in the difficult-to-return area.

Kitamura put on protective gear and started mowing the grass at Mr. Nagai’s house.

Nagai: I heard that this area has not been targeted for decontamination as of yet. I wonder how long we have to wait…

Interviewer: Do you feel like you’ve been abandoned?

Nagai: That’s the feeling I get, because even after 10 years, there’s no movement at all.

Narration: Most of the difficult-to-return areas have not yet been decontaminated, so people are only allowed to enter up to 30 times a year.

Nagai: I don’t think I’ll be able to come back, but if my parents really want this place, I have to keep it.

Narration: Mr. Nagai’s house was built five years before the nuclear accident. The garden was filled with colorful flowers and a peaceful rural landscape.

Kitamura: We were the reason why the garden that we put so much effort into was covered with weeds. It makes you feel sorry, doesn’t it? So, even if it’s just a little bit… On the contrary, I can only do a little bit, but we hope we can be of help. That’s one of my main motivations.

Kitamura: To be extremely blunt… (silence for a few seconds) I’d like to be forgiven, wouldn’t I? But I don’t think they will ever forgive me. I don’t think I could forgive myself if I thought that it happened to me. But if you think about it simply, to do or not to do, it’s better to do what you have to do. For your own sake. I think it’s a bit cheeky to say it’s for the sake of the people of Fukushima. I guess that’s why I keep coming to Fukushima…

Narration: After participating in the summer festival in Onami, Nagai decided to rent a house in the village and move there the following year. He retired from TEPCO in 2016, at the age of 57, when his decontamination work came to an end. He launched a non-profit organization to sell agricultural products from Fukushima. It sells rice and other products from Ohnami in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Sales are gradually increasing. When he moved to Onami, Nagai noticed one thing.

Nagai: Using electricity means convenience for everyone. I used to think that being convenient meant being happy. But convenience means throwing something away. You don’t realize it at the time. When I lived in a mountainous area, I realized that although there are inconvenient parts, people support each other to the extent that it is inconvenient. The people are different, totally different. Their minds are completely different. Their ideas are different.

Narration: After quitting his job at the age of 50, Yajima began working for a farming corporation in Minamisoma to restore the untouched farmland to its original state.

Yajima: Farming has not resumed because there are no bearers. So if I can help in any way, even though I don’t have any experience, I think farming is the way to go.

Narration: He obtained six licenses and certifications, including a large special-purpose license and a forklift, in order to farm. It has been 10 years since he faced Fukushima after the nuclear accident. He has lived his life as if he was scratching it.

Yajima: Even though there is an underlying sense of atonement and the fact that I am an employee of TEPCO, I have been living my life by saying I am sorry, I am sorry. From now on, I’m not going to just say sorry, but I’m going to take a step forward… As a person who lives in Fukushima, I am genuinely happy if the rice paddies are cleaned.

⭐Thank you for reading.⭐

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