In March 2011, damaged by an earthquake and a tsunami, three reactors went into meltdown at the nuclear power station in Fukushima, Japan. Everyone within 20 kilometers of the plant was evacuated, but Naoto Matsumura chose to stay – the only person left out of 80,000.
“When the earthquake hit, I was at the nuclear power plant, working on the road. Everyone evacuated, but I was living with my parents, and my mother could barely walk. I said we should stay put. About a month after the nuclear explosions, my three siblings came. They said it was dangerous and we should leave, but I decided to remain here by myself. I had to feed my dogs.
“After two or three days alone, I heard the neighbor’s dog barking. He was hungry, so I started to take care of him. Then I found another stray dog, and after a month I was spending most of my time driving around Tomioka looking for abandoned animals. I adopted dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, ducks, cows – too many to count. I fed them so they wouldn’t turn feral.
“In the days after the accident, I felt a bit nauseous, but after a while you get used to the radiation†. I don’t fear it: I can’t see it and it doesn’t hurt. A doctor at a university told me I was highly radioactive, but it would take about 30 years for the first symptoms to appear. In 30 years, I will be over 80. It’s normal to die when you are 80. I was supposed to go back this February for another check, but the doctor who tested me has been taken ill and been hospitalized. Some people think I’m dangerous. I was told not to attend the wedding of a relative of mine. I didn’t go. I didn’t want to cause trouble at the ceremony.
“People used to come here every year from across Japan to see the cherry blossoms. My friends and I would buy beer and sit under the trees. But last springtime, no one came to view them. This year there is still no one. It’s such a strange feeling. Now when I walk through the town, I am alone. At night there’s no electricity and it’s pitch black everywhere. The evenings are when I get sad. I drink a few glasses of sake before going to sleep. But when the morning comes I feel alive again.
“This is a beautiful place, but the land here has to be decontaminated. That will take time, but my new idea is to use cows. Get them to eat the radioactive grass, then collect the cesium from their excrement. Eventually, when it’s safe, people will be able to come back.”
† Confident that old age will kill them before radiation-induced cancer does, some 200 retirees have become volunteer workers at the dangerously radioactive Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan. Unofficially, they are called “the Suicide Corps.”
Other ways to get radiation
If you can’t picture nuclear fusion, go outside and look up. The sun is one giant, continuous hydrogen bomb, whose radiation warms life on earth. Hence the skin cancer.
In the early 20th-century, American factory workers known as “Radium Girls” started dying after painting watches with luminescent, radioactive radium. They licked their brushes for precision, so their jawbones disintegrated first.
An old television set is an electron gun aimed at your face. Cathode tubes in TVs create an image by pumping X-rays toward the screen. A year’s worth of nightly news provides half of your average annual radiation.
Once swallowed, radioactive isotopes will make bodily fluids like urine, blood, semen and perspiration radioactive, too. Naoto Matsumura is likely to have been affected – ingesting his fluids could give others radiation sickness.
Animals: The essentials
Pigs are used to dispose of human feces in Goa, India, and to help process landfill in Cairo, Egypt, by consuming organic waste. Your pig will eat anything, and when it’s full, you can eat your pig.
Providing high-protein meat and extra-strong leather, a dead ostrich is a valuable resource. Alive, it can be ridden away from disaster at 70km/h and will thrive in almost any climate from South Africa to Alaska.
An electrical field can supercharge silkworms to produce bulletproof silk, discovered Singaporean researchers in 2010. Dead, silkworms are eaten boiled in Korea, fried in Vietnam, and dried in China, where they are believed to cure flatulence.
Gambian pouched rats are used to detect landmines in Mozambique and tuberculosis in Tanzania, and are lighter, faster and smarter than dogs. Their rapid rate of reproduction makes them a good, sustainable source of food, too.
Perfect for floodlands, water buffalo have splayed hooves for walking on mud, instinctively follow their owners and are happiest when half-underwater. They still provide a third of the pulling power on Southeast Asian farms, as well as milk and meat.