8 years on, Fukushima woman tries to engage with reluctant returnees

TOMIOKA, Japan: Takumi Takano and her husband have spent half of each month in a trailer near the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant since an evacuation order for the site was lifted two years ago.
Takano, who was elected in 2016 as the first female councillor in Fukushima’s Tomioka town in 35 years, was one of the few officials who strongly opposed lifting of the evacuation order. “It was too early. But the mayor would not listen,” she says, referring to Tomioka Mayor Koichi Miyamoto.
Pedestrians are nowhere to be seen in Tomioka, once famous for its magnificent cherry blossoms, but scarred by the nuclear disaster caused by a magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Wild boars, palm civets, raccoons and monkeys roam the streets.
Takano, whose trailer is located 8 kilometres south of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, says she and her husband decided to have their house torn down due to a rat infestation after their evacuation.
“Most of those who have returned are older men. Even if young people want to come back, there are no jobs for them except ones at the nuclear plant,” Takano says.
Tomioka has built a shopping mall, and even shoulders the costs of electricity and water in an effort to bring residents home. The initiative has been largely unsuccessful.
Only 10 per cent of Tomioka’s population have returned to the town.The figure includes workers who have moved there for the decommissioning operation at the plant.
Takano argues the region’s recovery programmes do not provide perspective for residents, especially when it comes to women. That’s why the mother of two grown-up children decided to run for office and her husband, a former nuclear plant worker, supported her bid.
However, Takano, the only woman on the town’s 14-member assembly, has faced difficulty in bringing change to Tamioka, partly because she feels her views are not respected.
“At first I was very depressed, but I’m resilient and optimistic,”says Takano, who rides a Harley Davidson motorcycle. — DPA