All of photos and text without an itroduction part are by Shinshu Hida.
I think I met a photographer in Koriyama, Fukushima, who shot photos of high radiation areas of Fukushima . His name was Shinshu Hida. Now, he is a prominent activist, photo journalist, and speaker of Fukushima. I met him on March 27, 2016 and had a small conversation with him about the Group of Families of Thyroid Cancer Children. He is one of supporters of them.
Reporting the current situation of Fukushima by Shinshu Hida
I am not a photo-journalist. In fact, I have been taking photos of artisans. Eight years ago, I started photographing artisans from Hokkaido down to other places in Japan. When I finished my project in Kyushu and started editing what I had taken with my camera, the powerful earthquake hit the northeastern part of Japan. As I had been a photographer of another genre, I wondered then if I should take records of the impact of the earthquake. First, I thought I shouldn’t be involved in the work of a photo-journalist by taking pictures of physical damages and those people who were badly affected by the disaster.
I have a friend in the Onahama district, about 50 km away from the site of the nuclear meltdown. So I paid him a visit to see how he was coping with the situation. He said, “Please see the reality in our area with your own eyes.” He had just lost seven of his good friends by the tsunami which destroyed the northeastern coast of Japan immediately after the earthquake. He also urged me strongly that “we should never allow this tragedy to fade away from our minds.” Encouraged by those words, I changed my mind and started taking photos by entering the areas affected by the meltdown as far as I was allowed to enter.
From April to July, 2011, I took photos from Onahama to the town of Hirono, about 20 km from the nuclear power plant. During that period, I also got involved in volunteer activities and found the residents of my native town in a nearby sport center as evacuees. There I met someone who asked me to keep recording the reality with my camera and offered to accompany me to various places.
In January, 2012, for the first time I entered the areas where the residents had been ordered to be evacuated, the areas with high levels of radiation contamination that no one was allowed to enter without a special permit. When I entered there, I could not stop the tears flowing out of my eyes, but soon, I could not suppress a tremendous feeling of anger surging within me.
I was stunned by what I saw there. There were towns with streets, shops and houses, but not even a single person was visible. What I heard was a sound of wind, or the sound of a broken iron sheet which had been used as a shutter of a shop that had been destroyed by the earthquake or tsunami. I almost felt as if I was seeing the wind. At that time, about one year was about to pass since the meltdown, but nothing had changed in the area where the residents had suddenly had to evacuate.
If there had not been an accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, those evacuees would have been able to go home like those residents in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures who managed to go home after the tsunami subsided. But those evacuees from Fukushima are unable to go home due to high radiation contamination in their hometowns and villages. The Government and TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) had repeatedly propagated the residents around the nuclear power plant with a “myth” that the nuclear plant was safe and there would never be an accident. The accident occurred, however. We had made such a blunder and it is impossible to go back to where we were before the disaster.
Now, five years have passed, but nothing has changed for the better. In reality, the situation has gotten worse for the victims of the meltdown. Their houses had been ransacked by thieves, rats and animals such as wild boars, and are rotten to the core. Furthermore, the radiation level is still too high for people to go home.
Nevertheless, the national and prefectural governments pretend as if the nuclear accident had been put under control and assert that the affected areas are recovering and are pressuring the evacuees to return home. But the nuclear plant has never been put under control. Not only that, it has been known that the vent towers for the nuclear reactors 1 and 2 together have five broken spots and three places badly deformed. These vent towers are 120 m high, and the radiation level at their foundation is still as high as 20 Sv/h, which is high enough to kill a workman in 5-20 minutes even with a protective clothes (TEPCO reference material issued on 07 Oct. 2013).
Without providing the public with such information, what would the governments and TEPCO do when another accident occurs?
In August, 2012, I met a little girl, a second grader, who asked me, “Uncle, do you think I will be able to get married when I grow up?” I did not know how to respond to her, but managed to say “I’m sorry.” While driving home, I could not stop crying till I reached home. I felt terrible for the situation making such a girl to worry about her future. I was determined more than ever to keep taking photos of what had happened as a result of the meltdown to leave them for future generations. We must decommission nuclear power stations. It is not only the problem in Japan. It concerns the entire world. Otherwise, mankind will perish from the earth. So I really wish as many people as possible to see the reality through my photographs.