Killing the chickens was the worst.
For a 53-year-old organic farmer like Sachiko Sato, killing a chicken was not a novel event. “We kill chickens for food. We sell chickens. We raise chickens to eat,” she said. “But this was different. This was too much.”
She was sitting in the sparse conference room in the Ossining, NY headquarters of the environmental group Riverkeeper, having lunch and recalling the life-changing events of the past year in her hometown, Fukushima, Japan, as her 13-year-old daughter, Mina, slept in a chair nearby. She is part of a small delegation of Japanese farmers and the country’s best known anti-nuclear activist, Aileen Mioko Smith, who came to the US to talk to anti-nuclear groups and government officials and present a petition to the United Nations High commission on Human Rights to recognize the danger posed by radiation to children.
Earlier in the week Ed Lyman, of the Union of Concerned Scientists (www.UCSUSA.org), hosted a meeting between the group and officials at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Beyond Nuclear (www.beyondnuclear.org), the American anti-nuclear group, guided the group around New York and teamed with the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition (www.Indianpointinfo.org and www.ShutDownIndianPointNow.org) to bring them to suburban Westchester County Friday to see the area around the Indian Point nuclear power complex and talk with local farmers about the danger such plants posed to their livelihoods. They stopped at Riverkeeper, which has waged a legal fight to close the plant for nearly a decade, to rest before taking the train back into Manhattan for a meeting at the UN.
“When we met with the US officials,” said Mrs. Sato, “they said they would learn from the lessons of Fukushima. “They talked about the evacuation of Americans within 50 miles of Fukushima. But now that I have been here, I realize that there is no possible evacuation plan for people 50 miles around Indian Point.”
Such an evacuation would affect 21 million people, including all of northern New Jersey as far as Newark, west past the Delaware Water Gap into Pennsylvania, east to Hartford, Conn., and south encompassing all of New York City. The NRC requires evacuation plans for only 10 miles around the nation’s 104 nuclear power plants.
The massive, March 11 earthquake and resulting tsunami ravaged the coastline of Japan and killed thousands of people, and destroyed safety systems and power at the huge nuclear complex. It had done little damage to the Sato’s small organic farm, about 60 miles from the coast. But the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant were another matter. Two of the six plants in the complex were closed for refueling, but the remaining four were out of control and melted down, giving off hydrogen gas from the reactors and spent fuel pools which exploded and blew their containment buildings apart.
These were modern plants, the same make and vintage of boiling water reactors as the Hope Creek and Oyster Creek plants in New Jersey whose licenses were recently extended for 20 more years. The continuing, uncontrolled release of radiation from their Japanese counterparts threatens to overtake Chernobyl as the world’s worst commercial nuclear power accident.
“March 11 changed everything,” Mrs. Sato said. “The nuclear accident was particularly difficult to accept because we could not see it.”
She had never paid much attention to her city’s nuclear complex. After the Chernobyl accident in 1985, she said, “I talked to a friend in Yamagata, about 100 kilometers away. I had decided if an accident were to ever occur at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, I would send my children to Yamagata. But that was in 1985.”
That accident in the Ukraine made her rethink the role of technology in daily living, and “I decided to learn from the wisdom and skills of the past, so that we could continue life into the next generation even if there were no imports of fossil fuels or nuclear power. That is the way people used to live, greatly valuing the connection between each other and having awe and respect for nature.”
She and her husband and their five children converted the homestead into a “natural farm,” growing rice, vegetables and grains, raising and tending some 200 chickens and coking their meals over firewood. They did not use plows or heavy machinery, but worked by hand, the way their ancestors had. Their organic farm became the nucleus of a cooperative organic farming community.
“It wasn’t until three years ago that I actually saw Fukushima Daiichi,” she said. “I was at a meeting near the coast, and we had decided that if the weather was nice we would swim in the sea. The weather was rough and the sea was choppy so we did not go for the swim, but that’s when I saw the power plant.
“I had never seen anything like it. I wondered how you can live with this power plant. The discharge from the plant was hot water that was harming the fish.”