Fukushima- Beauty and Tragedy

Fukushima is a land of mountains floating in clouds; flooded rice paddies densely punctuated with exclamation points of green; lazy coastal fishing villages; and, since March 11, 2011, the triple disaster of a change-the-earth’s axis earthquake, monster tsunami that peaked at 40.5 meters, and nuclear power plant accident that emptied villages, cleared highways, and returned damaged land to it’s original owner — nature.

Reminders of the tragedy are everywhere. On the mountain campus of Fukushima University, two large dosimeters show the current radiation reading. The dosimeters are meant to reassure but simultaneously, though perhaps not intentionally, serve as a reminder of the tragedy below. In the town of Iitate, a whimsical sculpture plays the songs of schoolchildren long since evacuated, while an adjacent dosimeter, placed with no sense of irony, provides a steady read-out of radiation levels deemed too high to ever return to the deserted town.

On the coast below, blocks of concrete foundations are all that remain of fishermen’s homes, a silent, solid, testimonial to the stability of rock and steel, and the inherent weakness of wood and flesh.

The CVMBS team arrived to this beautiful, haunted country to explore research and educational partnerships with Fukushima University. The first day was spent in scientific meetings to gain a better understanding of how the triple disaster changed the focus of discovery for researchers. Recent studies include the effects of zeolite and benthonite to reduce radiocesium assimilation in dairy cows; technology to reduce radiactive substances in livestock grazing lands; and the contamination of soil and water in Fukushima.

Day Two was a visit and series of research presentations at the Fukushima Livestock Industry Research Center, then on to the temporary location of the Prefectural Fisheries Experiment Station fisheries group, before a sobering trip to what remained of the agency’s  headquarters in the tsunami-devastated Soma.

Here, the skeletal remains of the largest fish market in the Fukushia Prefecture pay silent witness to what once was a raucous and vibrant community of fishermen, fish buyers, and the endless negotiations over price that filled the air. Yoshio Ichida, a local fisherman, relives the disaster, telling tales of how some residents left Soma within minutes of the earthquake knowing that a tsunami may follow. But they underestimated the ferocity of the wave and returned home only to be met with the full force of a seething wall of water, armed with lumber, cars and shards of metal roof.

As the prefecture recovers, CSU is exploring how to partner in new research programs that will not only help Fukushima, but extend the lessons of nuclear accidents — and two – or three-in-one catastrophes — to help over countries as they move forward in developing their responses. While the likelihood of another Fukushima is small, the lessons to be learned are large.

Today, the team heads to Taiwan to connect with colleagues of Taiwan University and visit the veterinary school, a partnership that was launched last year and we hope will continue to move forward. The goal here is similar to Gifu University, the University of Tokyo, and Fukushima University — the development of international partnerships to enhance the teaching, research and outreach missions of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical sciences to benefit the global society.

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