” OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture–Clad in masks, caps and other protective gear, a handful of evacuees from the Fukushima nuclear disaster returned to their hometown here to pay their respects at the graves of their ancestors.
Kuniyuki Sakuma, 65, and his wife, Reiko, 66, visited the tomb of Sakuma’s father on Aug. 13, located just 500 meters from the embattled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Their visit coincided with the traditional Bon festival in which people stop by their ancestors’ graves.
Sakuma and his wife remain evacuated in Iwaki, also in the prefecture, due to the lingering high levels of radiation in Okuma. About 110,000 people remain evacuated from their homes in Fukushima Prefecture.
A year after the onset of the 2011 nuclear disaster, Sakuma’s father, Kunimaru, died of a ruptured aneurysm while living in temporary housing as an evacuee. Kunimaru had taken great pride in running a successful pear farm in Okuma and often expressed his desire to return to his farm.
Although his tomb is currently in Okuma, Kunimaru’s final resting place remains unknown as the grave site is marked for the construction of an interim facility to store contaminated soil and material from cleanup efforts at localities surrounding the nuclear plant.
Sakuma said the Environment Ministry has provided no information on what will become of his father’s tomb.
On Aug. 13, airborne radiation levels at the grave site measured more than 100 times the levels in Iwaki.
Sakuma said he understands that returning to Okuma to live is unrealistic. But he added that he cannot readily abandon the land where his parents once resided.
During their one-hour visit, Sakuma and his wife also stopped by their Okuma home to find their garden overrun with weeds.
“I wonder if my father would be upset if I move the grave somewhere else,” Sakuma said. “I would not have to be worried about this kind of thing if the nuclear disaster had not occurred in the first place.” ”