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Police officer stays on duty in empty town near Fukushima plant

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Satoru Saeki, a resident police officer at the Okuma police substation, goes on patrol in the difficult-to-return zone in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture.
 
 
 
January 1, 2019
OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture–On his rather lonely rounds, Satoru Saeki looks for anything out of place in an empty town center marred by broken windows, uncollected litter and overgrown weeds.
A calendar dated March 2011 is still pinned on a wall of a dilapidated shop.
Saeki, 39, is the only police officer in Okuma, a town that remains largely deserted since an evacuation order was issued following the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011.
On his daily patrols alone in Okuma, which co-hosts the stricken nuclear plant, Saeki is mainly on the lookout for looters.
Saeki works out of the Futaba Police Station in the neighboring town of Tomioka.
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Officer Satoru Saeki talks to a resident who has temporarily returned home in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture.
 
 
On Dec. 4, Saeki, whose hobby is working out, eased his well-built physique into a minicar, his police cruiser. He soon arrived in front of the gate to the “difficult-to-return zone,” one of the areas most heavily polluted by radiation that is still essentially off-limits even to residents.
Saeki showed his ID to a security guard before going through the gate. Driving at a speed under 30 kph, the officer looked right and left for unfamiliar cars or any changes to the uninhabited houses.
He arrived at the Okuma town center in about 15 minutes and walked around a shopping district.
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Satoru Saeki patrols an empty shopping district in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture
Okuma had a population of about 11,000 before the nuclear disaster. Now, it resembles a ghost town.
Construction trucks can be seen going in and out of the town for work to tear down the houses of residents who have decided not to return to Okuma.
Saeki walked some more and found a car parked in front of a house.
“Hello. Has anything changed here?” the smiling officer said to a man in a garden at the home.
“I came back to pick up some things I need because this house is set for demolition,” Hikaru Murai, 69, said.
Murai said he temporarily returned from Aizu-Wakamatsu, also in Fukushima Prefecture, where he has lived since evacuating Okuma, to tidy up his house.
It was only the third time for the two to meet, but they seemed to know each other quite well.
The officer asked Murai what time he started tidying up.
“I got here early because the expressway was so smooth,” Murai replied.
Before the disaster struck, two police officers were assigned to the substation in the Okuma town center. But since it was located in the difficult-to-return zone, the posts were left vacant for a while.
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Officer Satoru Saeki stops by at the unused Okuma police substation in the difficult-to-return zone.
However, evacuees have started staying overnight in their Okuma homes in some areas since spring to prepare for their permanent return. To enforce law and order in the town, Saeki becoming the resident police officer in March this year.
Saeki commutes to the Futaba Police Station from Iwaki, also in the prefecture, where he lives with his family.
A string of break-ins and other crimes have been reported in Okuma.
In 2011, the number of criminal cases in areas under the Futaba Police Station’s jurisdiction was 1,015, more than twice the figure before the nuclear disaster. The number has since been decreasing and stood at 194 in 2017.
“A single case is enough to make residents concerned,” Saeki said.
The officer is adamant about closely liaising with town officials and private security guards, and sharing information no matter how trivial it might seem.
Saeki was born and raised on Shodoshima, an island with a population of about 28,000, in Kagawa Prefecture.
After graduating from college in Kanagawa Prefecture, Saeki became a vocational training school instructor and was assigned to an institution in Iwaki. He married a woman he met in the city and became a member of the Fukushima prefectural police in 2009.
Saeki was on duty when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck and spawned the tsunami that inundated the No. 1 nuclear plant.
He was involved in the search for bodies along the coast.
“It was really hard,” Saeki said. “I made up my mind to support people who made it through even if it means just a little.”
As Saeki continued his patrol in the difficult-to-return zone on Dec. 4, he found many “yuzu” citrus fruit growing on a tree in the garden of a house.
“Oh, it tastes great when you squeeze the juice and pour it into a glass of cocktail,” Saeki said to a resident in the garden.
Citrus fruits are widely cultivated on Shodoshima island.
“Okuma and Shodoshima are similar in the sense that both are rich in nature with the ocean and mountains,” Saeki said.
He said his daily patrols in the town show that recovery will be difficult. But he shared one hope-inspiring event that occurred in early September when the trees started taking on fall colors.
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Satoru Saeki, a resident police officer stationed at the Okuma substation
While on patrol in the Ogawara district, where evacuees have started staying overnight at their homes to prepare for their permanent return, a voice called out to Saeki: “Officer, over here.”
When Saeki looked over, he found about 80 evacuees who had returned to the town to enjoy a barbecue party.
“Let’s take a picture together,” one of them said.
With a slightly shy smile, Saeki joined the group for the photo shoots.

 

January 3, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , | Leave a comment

2020 Olympic torches to be made of recycled aluminum from Fukushima temporary housing

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This file photo shows the Tokyo Summer Olympics torch relay held in September 1964.
 
Olympics: 2020 torches to be made of recycled aluminum from Fukushima
Jan 1, 2019
TOKYO (Kyodo) — Recycled aluminum from temporary housing in Fukushima Prefecture, which was devastated by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, is planned to be used in the crafting of Tokyo 2020 Olympic torches, sources close to the matter revealed Monday.
The plan is likely to attract interest in Japan and abroad as being another symbolic effort to uphold one of the main themes of the July 24-Aug. 9 Summer Games as a “reconstruction Olympics.”
More than 10,000 pieces of aluminum are expected to be needed for the torches, used by runners in the nationwide relay beginning after the Olympic flame arrives in Japan from Greece on March 20, 2020.
According to sources, organizers will need to coordinate with local governments in the future in order to determine which metals can be procured from temporary housing that is no longer in use.
Tokyo 2020 organizers are also collecting metals from used electronics handed in by consumers nationwide to forge the approximately 5,000 medals to be awarded at the Games, and said in October they had reached their target for bronzes.
The “flame of reconstruction” will first be displayed in Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima prefectures, the three most affected by the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami that devastated a large part of northeastern Japan.
The Japan leg of the relay will begin in Fukushima on March 26, and will travel across all 47 prefectures of the country over a period of 121 days before arriving in Tokyo for the opening ceremony.
The design of the torch, which has already been approved by the International Olympic Committee, will be announced next spring.
 
 

January 3, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | 1 Comment