May 6 ~ Bob Stilger’s Notes from Japan #13: Radiation

Last Sunday I was to have traveled to Koriyama in Fukushima, but a bad cold was coming on and I wisely stayed home.  Yesterday I met with Yuya and learned more of the situation in Koriyama.  It is complex, to say the least.
Koriyama is about 60 miles from the nuclear reactors.  It suffered neither earthquake or tsunami damage.  It looks normal.  In some ways it is, and in other ways it is not.
One of the many shelters is a sports complex.  At one time it housed 2000 refugees.  Now the number is closer to 1500.  Access to the shelter is strictly controlled, local government believes that a key part of its  responsibility is to “protect” people there.
Refugees really is the best term to describe people there.  They are both unlanded and homeless.  there are some critical boundaries here.  Twelve miles out from the reactor is considered a waste land which will likely be uninhabitable for a very long time.  A second zone, between 12 miles and 18 is a big unknown.  No one knows.  There is some hope that radiation levels will be low enough to return in 6-9 months, but no one really knows.
The refugees in the sports complex come from both of these zone.  Some living with the fact they are permanently displaced.  Others living with uncertainty.  Around them the world at least appears normal.  Their world is not.  People go to MacDonalds and chat on the street.  People go to their normal day jobs.   Not so for the people in the shelters — they have no normal.
I don’t know that one can even compare the devastation of the tsunami in Ishinomaki that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago with this devastation of radiation.  In Ishinomaki, the damage an destruction is visible — quite visible. In Koriyama, it is invisible. In Ishinomaki, people can return to their homes and work on cleanup.  In Koriyama for some ever returning is unlikely and for others uncertain.  Like those in Ishinomaki, normal life is gone for those in Koriyama — no jobs, no funds, no privacy, uncertain future.
It even feels bit more complicated because the two groups — those within a 12 mile ring and those between 12 and 18 miles live side by side, with such different likely futures.
NPOs working in the area say it is as if there is a big wall up around the shelter.  Some put in place by government, but also put in place by the people living there, as if they must isolate themselves from the so-called normal world that surrounds them.
Our current plan, in a little less that two weeks, is to bring a number of youth leaders from this shelter as well as the NPOs working in the area to the KEEP at Kiyosato, there to spend three days with youth from the Kiyosato area as well as other parts of Japan.  Our purpose is to create a space in which the multiple levels of grief can b shared and in which people can think about how to move forward.
Such an uncertain time. How can it be used well?  What work is possible?  How are the people of Fukushimaya and all of the Tohoku region supported in creating a future they want?  How do they support each other and how do people from outside the region support them without taking over.
Everyone wants to do the right thing.  But what is right?
The more I learn, the more painful it is.  There are so many different levels to this disaster and the magnitude of the disaster at each level is devastating.

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