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The man who rescues forgotten cats in Fukushima’s nuclear zone



From Tim Kelly and Kim Kyung Hoon

FUKUSHIMA, Japan (Reuters) – A decade ago, Sakae Kato was left to rescue cats abandoned by neighbors fleeing radiation clouds erupting from a nearby nuclear power plant in Fukushima. He will not leave.

“I want to make sure I’m here to take care of the latter,” he said from his home in the contaminated quarantine zone. “Then I want to die, whether it’s a day or an hour later.”

So far, he has buried 23 cats in his garden, the newest graves disturbed by wild boars that roam the depopulated community. He is looking at 41 others in his home and another empty building in his property.

By leaving food for feral cats in a storage shed that heats with a paraffin stove. He also saved a dog, Pochi. Without running water, he has to fill bottles from a nearby mountain spring and drive to public toilets.

The 57-year-old man, who owned a small construction business in his previous life, said his decision to stay because 1

60,000 other people had evacuated the area was driven in part by the shock of finding dead pets in abandoned houses he has helped to destroy.

The cats also gave him a reason to stay on land owned by his family for three generations.

“I don’t want to leave, I like living in these mountains,” he said, standing in front of his house, which he is allowed to visit but is technically not allowed to sleep.

The two-storey wooden structure is in poor condition.

Rotten floorboards sag. It is littered with holes where rain-proof wall panels and tiles were displaced by a powerful earthquake last month, evoking frightening memories of the devastating March 11, 2011 earthquake that led to the tsunami and nuclear collapse.

“It could go on for another two or three years. The walls are starting to tilt,” Kato said.

The decontamination in the fields near his house signaled that other residents would soon be allowed to return.

He estimates he spends $ 7,000 a month on his animals, some of it to buy food for wild boar dogs that gather near his house at sunset. Farmers consider them pests and also blame them for destroying empty homes.

On February 25, Kato was arrested on suspicion of releasing wild boar caught in traps set up by the Japanese government in November. At the time this article was published, he was still being held for questioning.

Yumiko Konishi, a Tokyo veterinarian who helps Kato, said local volunteers cared for the cats on his property, but at least one died after being detained.

FEAR TRAVELERS

About 30 km (19 miles) southeast, still in a restricted area, Hisae Unuma is also researching the condition of its home, which withstood the quake a decade ago but is now close to collapsing after years of wind damage. rain and snow.

“I’m surprised it’s still standing,” said the 67-year-old farmer, a week after the tremor that damaged Kato’s house.

“From there, I saw my cattle in the field,” she said, pointing to the living room, a view that is now blocked by a tangle of bamboo.

Unuma escaped as the cooling system at Tokyo Electric Power Co’s 2.5 km nuclear power plant failed and its reactors began to melt.

The government, which adopted Fukushima as a symbol of the national revival amid preparations for the Tokyo Olympics, is encouraging residents to return to the decontaminated land.

However, long-standing fears about the nuclear power plant, jobs and poor infrastructure are alienating many.

Unuma, now a vegetable grower in Saitama Prefecture near Tokyo, where her husband died three years ago, will not return, even if the government scrapes the radioactive soil from its fields.

Radiation levels around her house are about 20 times higher than the background level in Tokyo, according to the dosimeter readings made by Reuters.

Only the removal of Fukushima’s radioactive nuclei will make her feel safe – a task that will take decades.

“It doesn’t matter the threat of earthquakes, these reactors can blow if someone puts a tool in the wrong place,” she said.

Before making the four-hour drive back to his new home, Unuma visits the Ranch of Hope, a cattle farm owned by Masami Yoshizawa, who opposed the order to destroy his irradiated animal in protest of the government and Tokyo Electric Power.

Among the 233 bulls, there is still the last surviving bull from the 50-herd herd that Unuma used, and one of her last living connections to the life she had before the disaster.

Her ox ignores her when she tries to seduce him, so Yoshizawa gives her a handful of cabbage to try to tempt him.

“The thing about livestock is that they really only think about food,” Yoshizawa said.

(Report by Tim Kelly and Kim Gyeong Hoon; Additional reports by Akira Tomoshid; Edited by Pravin Char and Lincoln Fest.)


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