On March 11, 2011 an earthquake and tsunami resulted in multiple meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The surrounding 20 km (12 mile) radius around the plant was evacuated. The Japanese government later urged those living within 30 km (18 miles) to also evacuate.
The town of Tomioka (population 16,000) is well within the designated danger zone and was evacuated on March 12. To this day it remains a ghost town, save for one man: Naoto Matsumura, a fifth generation rice farmer in his early 50s.
He was quoted nearly a year ago in the Japan Times:
The nuclear power plant took away everything from me, my life and assets. Staying on here is my way of putting up a fight so that I won’t forget my anger and grief.
– Naoto Matsumura
Matsumura initially left Tomioka along with his parents and the other townsfolk, but he soon defied government orders and returned to tend to the animals that were still on his family’s farm. In fact, countless animals were abandoned by the mass exodus. Since they left so suddenly, residents did not have time to make arrangements for pets and livestock, thinking they would return to their homes in a few days. Dogs were left tied up in yards, cattle locked up in barns. Naoto noticed these animals and did his best to care for them. He continues to look after many cats, dogs, cows and pigs as well as a couple of ostriches. You could call him a radioactive St. Francis.
And he is a bit radioactive. Tests by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency revealed that he had the highest radiation exposure in Japan. But according to Matsumura, doctors said he wouldn’t get sick for 30-40 years so that didn’t worry him much.
A new short film by VICE Media documents Naoto Matsumura’s extraordinary life in Fukushima’s exclusion zone; living alone and caring for the animals. He even found a dog that had been locked inside a barn for a one and a half years, somehow surviving by eating the rotting meat of cattle that had starved to death. Naoto nursed him back to health.
With the initial media exposure that Fukushima’s “radioactive man” received and now the added attention engendered by the VICE film, Naoto has become a bit of an international cause célèbre, with an English fundraising blog and Facebook page set up in his name.
Whether you think his actions are a bit foolhardy or irresponsible, he is only putting himself at risk and doing what he wants to do. In fact, he’s being more responsible than the government that is accountable for the human and animal victims of the nuclear disaster, a government that has neglected to care for the thousands of animals left to starve or fend for themselves (despite many cattle being euthanized by the state in 2011).
Watch the VICE film “Alone in the Zone” below and read the accompanying article here.