Year of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism
Department or School/College
Ray Fanning, Ebo Uchimoto
fukushima, radiation, yamakiya, nuclear accident, japan
University of Montana
Japanese Studies | Journalism Studies | Mass Communication
This long-form journalistic piece is about radioactive forests in Yamakiya, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, and how locals are dealing with it. Residents of Yamakiya were forced to evacuate their village in April 2011 following an explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
One Yamakiyan, Hidekatsu Ouchi, stepped into the role of community leader and is the focus of this story. He hopes Yamakiya can use the radiation, rather than condemning it. Ouchi’s devotion to his community is connected to the Japanese concept of furusato, which refers to an individual’s obligation and nostalgia for family, community and place. The story asserts that the forests surrounding the village are just as much furusato as the villages themselves, and it is this connection that drives locals like Ouchi to find ways to deal with the radiation that may not align with science.
Research and interviews throughout the story describe how radiation works and its effects on the landscape. Tim Mousseau, a scientist who has been studying radiation and biota in Fukushima and Chernobyl for nearly 20 years, said radiation slows both growth and decay of forest plants. It also causes genetic damage to forest inhabitants. Due to the nature of the radioactive element cesium-137, radiation cycles through forest biota like nutrients, becoming embedded in plants, creatures and detritus. It will take 300 years for the cesium to decay to pre-2011 levels.
The area’s local nuclear emergency response manager, Katsushi Miyachi, reveals the government will conduct a test decontamination on a five-acre plot of forest in Yamakiya. Trees will be clear-cut on one half of the plot, and radioactive litter will be removed on both halves. Radiation will be monitored on both portions and in the surrounding areas to determine which method will be most effective. It is unclear how Japanese government will follow up with the results of this test, but Miyachi is determined to decontaminate each hometown mountain.
If the test decontamination results align with the science, Fukushima’s forests may have to be entirely clear-cut to save the landscape, or the forest could suffer from hundreds of years of damaging exposure to radiation.
Spence, Katy N., "Finding Home After Fallout: The Future of Fukushima's Forests" (2018). Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers. 11147.
© Copyright 2018 Katy N. Spence