October 5, 2013
Award-winning journalist Sam Eaton has reported on environmental topics from food scarcity and population, to the nuclear disaster in Japan. Jennifer Szweda Jordan caught up with Eaton at the conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists in Chattanooga, Tennessee to talk about his work.
Sam Eaton was struck by the beauty of the Fukushima disaster area. A forested, coastal landscape bathed in warm sunlight, inhabited by people that had a tremendous attachment to the landscape. With deep connections to the past and a cultural tie to the land, Eaton felt it was a tragedy that the inhabitants were now being forced out. What’s more, although the people hoped to someday come back, they may return to a home that is completely changed.
“Would the landscape even be recognizable to the people that occupied it in order to make it safe for them to live there again?,” asks Eaton. “That’s a question they’re still trying to answer today. Most of the areas within that 25 kilometer zone are still evacuated and the government just keeps telling people to wait in these camps they’ve established.”
One of the most haunting moments of his trip was when he was less than a mile from the ruined reactors at Fukushima. Sitting in a forest that had been penetrated with high levels of radiation, he realized the scale of the disaster.
In Chernobyl, the disaster site was simply abandoned, but even contemplating doing the same thing in Japan may be difficult. With land being such a scarce resource, it would take “a huge shift in the mindset to even conceptualize leaving that land,” according to Eaton.
Various actions can be taken to remove radiation from a contaminated area, but those actions can be undone by a simple rain washing radiation down from the beautiful surrounding mountainsides. The area may simply never be the same, and neither will the people.