Excerpt from A Criminal Complaint Against TEPCO (2012)
by Shojiro Akashi
It was May 6, 2011, almost two months after the nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi. While several black cows grazed in the pastures of Iitate, we measured radiation levels in the surrounding air: 2.95 microsieverts/hour. As a warm breeze blew, the levels continued to steadily rise, eventually reaching 5.79 microsieverts/hour. The Geiger counter kept sounding its alarm. If the numbers were accurate, we couldn’t stay here for long.
Without saying a word, every member of our data collecting team had already donned a mask.
Although we hadn't been invited, we decided to stop by the home of a dairy farmer family in the Maeta district of Iitate. A number of farmers’ wives happened also to be there for some kind of get-together. Tea and sweets were arranged on a table. When I inquired about the occasion, they told me it was the final meeting of the Iitate dairy farmer wives’ association. The evacuation of the entire village was close at hand.
They graciously invited me in, so I removed my mask and entered the room.
A: Dad was on the news this morning. He said that we dairy farmers had no choice but to suspend our businesses for two years. The cows will be slaughtered, and we will leave the village. After the broadcast, we got so many telephone calls from people who had seen him on TV. It was overwhelming. Finally I just said, “That's it, I don’t want to answer any more calls.”
Some of the callers were supportive and encouraged us not to give up, but others were not. They said things like, "Those cows are like members of your family, right? But now you’re going to hurry up and get rid of them because you value your life so much more than theirs?"
A lot of people called to scold us with these protest-like statements. I wanted those people to know what it really feels like to be in our position and what it was like for us to make the decision to stop dairy farming. But I didn't say anything.
Akashi: People here have gotten favorable coverage by the media, haven’t they?
B: That's true, but it's just that some people only see this as a matter of "animal welfare."
C: Yes, they only see it from that angle.
D: Right, right.
Akashi: Are you all going to leave Iitate and evacuate on your own?
A: Probably, yes.
Akashi: So it's going to be difficult to have this kind of gathering in the future...
B: Yes, of course. But we'll meet again in two years when we all come back.
Akashi: Are you all evacuating to locations within Fukushima Prefecture?
C: I'm still not sure where we're going. Everyone's leaving separately for a while until the other temporary housing is finished. But then again, it's not like they're building any kind of large-scale structures that can house an entire village, so yes, I guess everyone will be scattered....But it also sounds like even now they're still just looking for suitable sites to build on.
Akashi: Yes, that's how it sounds to me, too.
E: Even the vice-mayor said that it’s not going to be ready in May.
B: But the national government is telling us to leave by the end of May.
A: So where are we supposed to go?
C: Iitate is the very last place to be evacuated, and the entire village has to go. All of a sudden they say "evacuate" but all the housing is already full of other evacuees, the ones who lived near the plant, so there's no way we can find a place as quickly as they tell us we have to.
A: We can't leave.
B: We can't leave without first taking care of the cows. We could never leave them as they are now, just in order to evacuate ourselves.
Akashi: I see. So it sounds like from the beginning, the national government has really only considered disaster prevention within a 10 kilometer radius of the plant.
A: And Iitate is 40 to 50 kilometers away.
Akashi: So it's not just TEPCO that has brought about this situation. The government is also responsible.
C: Yes, and until now all they have been saying is that the plant is safe. "It's safe, it's safe." But they were completely wrong.
A: My health has really started to suffer because of all this.
At this point in the interview, I asked Yukuo Yasuda, a lawyer, to join our conversation. He had been waiting outside in the car.
Yasuda: How many cows do you have?
A: Right now we have 32. About half of them have been evacuated. Originally we had about 50.
Yasuda: Where are the other ones now?
A: We sent away the calves and the pregnant cows. They're at a dairy farming center in Shirakawa [in southern Fukushima Prefecture]. This was supposed to be part of the temporary evacuation plan. But now there are "movement restrictions" on dairy cows because of the contamination, and we can't move them anywhere. That's why all the farming families are so upset.
It's an incredibly painful decision (to slaughter them). Some farmers in other areas have offered to take the Iitate cows. They're good cows, and people have said they want to take care of them.
But as long as there are "movement restrictions," we can't send them anywhere.
C: So we have to just keep throwing out fresh milk.
B: Yes, the cows have to be milked every morning and evening. But no one is going to buy that milk, so we have no choice but to throw it out. Our milk is our livelihood. And every day we are throwing it away. We can't sell the milk, so we won't be able to buy the feed. It's like we're buying food every day just to throw it out. And then our debts increase.
We're at our limit now, so we’re just giving the cows as much grass as they can eat from our own fields. Just to give them something to fill their stomachs. They aren't eating their usual feed, and they're wasting away, but they still produce milk. No matter how much we feed them, they get thinner and thinner. We understand what's happening, but there's nothing more we can do.
A: Apparently there's only enough pasture grass to last until the end of June. If that’s true we’ll have to go out and mow some more. Because of the accident, we're not adding extra fertilizer to the fields, and now they're telling us that we must not even cut the grass because it's too contaminated. That's why we're going to run out of food. We’ve told this to the government so many times, but no one is listening. We want to save the cows, but pretty soon we won't be able to feed them.
Akashi: Which governmental bodies have you discussed this with? Have you talked to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries?
A: Yes. We asked them to please buy the cows. They said, "Dispose of them, and the government will pay the difference (between what you get and the ordinary cattle market sales price)."
But how can we dispose of them? Nobody will buy Iitate cows, and nobody will even come to get them. So naturally, we have to make a decision about what to do all by ourselves, you know? Because the government isn't going to buy them.
That's why we had to make a painful choice, and that's what Dad was talking about on TV. And then we got "complaint" phone calls from people all over the country.
Yasuda: Did you get any kind of explanation from the Ministry of Agriculture?
A: About a month ago, on April 9, Michihiko Kano, the minister, came to the Iitate village office. Dad went to see him there and had an opportunity to talk to him about the future of dairy farming in Iitate.
Apparently some other people from the department in charge of dairy farming came with the minister, and they gave Dad their business cards. We got a phone call from them that night, asking about the situation in the village. They said they'd look into everything right away.
But then, two days later on April 11, the "planned evacuation" order was issued, and all the discussions about support for dairy farmers in the village suddenly became very vague. Dad had been negotiating a great deal over the phone with representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture, but now all they say is "We'll pay the difference, so..." That's the only point they make. It doesn't matter when we tell them that we can't move the cows because of the movement restrictions. Nothing we say matters. Dad says that the national government is passing everything onto the prefecture and leaving everything up to them. And now the prefecture tells us that "nothing can be done."
Yasuda: They ignore the problem, and then abruptly offer to compensate you only for lost profit.
Yasuda: In conventional legal theories about compensation for damages, compensation is paid only for profits.
But the evacuation of an entire village is an unprecedented event. And the best theories that we lawyers have about compensation come from incidents like traffic accidents. So in this case, even though it concerns a nuclear power plant accident, the incident might be likened to something completely different, like a traffic accident.
We lawyers too will also need to now study this case, but all of you must work hard as well.
Akashi: Are you saying that lawyers have never handled a case like this one?
Yasuda: Correct. There's never been anything like this. And a case of an entire population being forced out of their village is nowhere within the scope of a case about conventional traffic accidents, so naturally, our way of approaching this case must also be completely new.
Akashi: And in truth, the people here bear no responsibility for what happened to them.
C: We haven't done anything wrong.
B: We haven't received any benefits from the power plant either.
A: They just came and suddenly said "Leave the village." And with the issue of compensation, too, I feel like they're saying, "Figure it out yourselves." With everything like this, what's going to happen to us in the future?
C: We have no idea what to do.
B: Nothing can be done.
A: Now the mayor and other village officials are making appeals to somehow remain in Iitate, and taking these appeals to the media. But with radiation levels as high as they are here, the truth is that it cannot be fixed. This land is already lost, nothing edible can be harvested. So I understand that we must leave and make a life for ourselves somewhere else, but the village isn't doing much to help with that.
B: That's why we're so upset.
C: Nothing can be eaten. Nothing in the fields, nothing in the mountains.
Yasuda: It must not be eaten.
C: So even if we stayed here, we'd have to buy all our food. I can't live like that.
A: If our cows were wagyu beef cattle, we could move them somewhere else. But you have to milk dairy cows, and that's not something you can do anywhere. Even if someone took in our cows, they'd have to be dairy farmers. A lot of people feel sorry for us, and have offered to take them, but then when they really try to do it, their local dairy association tells them they must not accept the cows.
B: Rumors get going, you know, like, "Did you hear that they're going to put some Iitate cows in that pasture? Aren’t they all radioactive?"
A: So then of course people won't buy that milk.
Akashi: Has TEPCO come to apologize to you?
A: Very early on they came when Dad was out. They put an envelope in the mail holder and then left.
Just then "Dad" arrived home.
Kenichi Hasegawa (57 at the time), the leader of the district in Iitate known as Maeta, and director the Fukushima Dairy Farming Cooperative.
Hasegawa: We can't do anything by ourselves. Even trying to do something as a farming co-op is useless. So now I'm thinking that we're going to have to consult with people in the legal profession.
Yasuda: I think the co-op probably employs lawyers who can advise you, but this situation is completely unprecedented, so it might be difficult to get any really good advice, regardless of whether it comes from a lawyer or not. In times like these, the people who best understand the situation are the people on-site who are experiencing it. The more vocal you become about this issue, the more likely it is that the the advisory lawyers will be compelled to address it. There’s probably nothing more that you can do right now.
You may only be one person, Hasegawa-san, but it is critically important to continue speaking out. Also, at this point you absolutely cannot entrust the matter to other people, because everyone is saying they don't know what to do.
Akashi: It's true, they probably don't have any idea what to do.
Yasuda: Regardless of what kind of lawyer one is, not one of them has ever experienced anything like this before, with this issue of compensation on such a large scale.
Hasegawa: That seems true, even to me. I get that sense when I hear people say "JA [Japan Agriculture] will help you," or "Surely, somebody will help you." To me, this is by far the most frightening thing happening right now.
Yasuda: No, that's no good. Leaving things up to the discretion of others is how we get escorted to hell.
Hasegawa: It is by far the most frightening thing.
Yasuda: You will have to see this through to the very end, until you are satisfied. That is very important.
This is how our relationship with Kenichi Hasegawa began.
 ウチのお父さん。”Father of the house,” aka Kenichi Hasegawa.
*Translation from the Japanese by Amy Franks