Naoto Matsumura’s body is completely contaminated with radioactive cesium. A year after the Tohoku earthquake, and the subsequent nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima, the 52-year-old farmer is the final holdout in Japan’s government-mandated 20-kilometre nuclear exclusion zone.
He says he’s full of rage. He says he refuses to let go of hunger and grief. He says he wants to die in his hometown. Matsumura, and the surviving animals he tends to, have very little access to water, and no electricity. He scavenges leftover coal and rations gas for energy; he survives off tinned food sourced from outside the evacuation zone.
In 2006, the UN marked the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster with calls of “never again.” International Atomic Energy Agency’s Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei pledged to remember the Chernobyl accident by “renew[ing] our determination to ensure that such a tragedy will not happen again.”
The Fukushima Dai-ichi meltdown is one of only two nuclear accidents classified as a Level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale – the 1986 Chernobyl disaster is the other. Since 1950, there have been 99 accidents at nuclear plants around the world; 57 of them occurred after Chernobyl.
“It’s my responsibility to stay … and it is my right to be here,” Matsumura has said, standing in front of the rice paddy that used to be the source of his livelihood. “We haven’t learned our lesson yet.”
Though staying means that his risk of developing cancer increases exponentially, Matsumura is determined to remain in Fukushima to take care of animals that were left behind – pets and livestock alike. “People get sick when they get old anyway,” Matsumura said in a March 2012 UK Telegraph video, smoking a cigarette and looking on as an ostrich drank from a bucket on his farm.
So far, Matsumura says, the government has done nothing. (Media footage shows some contaminated soil under a series of blue tarps; other news video underscores the police-guarded perimeter around the exclusion zone.) St. Francis of Fukushima, Matsumura will stay with the cows, dogs, and ostriches, demanding that the government decontaminates the area.