posted April 12, 2011 04:44 AM
IITATE, Fukushima -- For one farmer here, the newly expanded evacuation zone around the crippled nuclear power plant nearby may mean doing the unthinkable: abandoning his cows.
"You can't just leave living things behind," says village cattle farmer Nagakiyo Yamada, 60. "Compensation hasn't been decided, either. If I have to move to a shelter, I want to stay as close to my farm as I can and keep taking care of my cows."
While part of the village of Iitate has been in the band 20-30 kilometers from the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, the entire village will now be subject to new government evacuation orders announced on April 11. Residents within the 10-kilometer-wide ring are currently advised to remain indoors.
Yamada has dutifully followed the indoor standby advisory, but not in his house. Since hydrogen explosions shook the nuclear plant soon after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, he has been living in his barn with 13 calves he intends to enter in livestock competitions, intent on saving them from exposure to radiation. The young cows haven't been put out to pasture since the nuclear crisis began, and Yamada replies to their soft "moos" with some of his own, trying to give them company.
Farmers in Miyazaki Prefecture -- which sold Yamada the mother cow -- have been sending water and instant noodles, apparently worried about the effect of the March 11 disaster and nuclear crisis on their Fukushima counterparts.
"I think of the help as a message encouraging me to raise these calves properly," Yamada says.
Calves from the Iitate region are highly regarded, and ordinarily command an equivalently high price at market. However, the bottom has fallen out of the animals' value with the current crisis.
"Market confidence in these calves was built up over decades," Yamada says. "This problem can't be solved just with money," he continues, stroking the head of one of his cows.
However, even if Yamada can stay close enough to care for his livestock, the resources to do so are running low. He only has two months of feed hay left, and if radioactive contamination prevents him from harvesting more, his prized calves will starve to death.
Yamada's farm also produces 15 metric tons of rice and 750 kilograms of tobacco a year, but both will very probably be subject to planting restrictions this year. Meanwhile, his household's emergency stockpile of rice will likely run out during the coming summer.
"Even if we evacuate, how are we supposed to live?" Yamada laments.
Adding to Yamada's worries, with no resolution to the nuclear crisis in sight and the future of the area uncertain, many of the village's young people could leave.
"Even if the evacuation order is lifted, the village could end up a wasteland," he says.
The situation may be even more heartbreaking for elder members of the Yamada clan.
"Even during World War II, at least we could go outside," says Yamada's 80-year-old mother Toshiko. "I plan to die here. I've just given up cause I've been exposed to so much radiation," she mutters.