Fukushima horse breeder braves high radiation levels to care for animals

WRITTEN BY JUSTIN McCURRY
Cross-posted from The Guardian
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About 30 horses remain on Hosokawa's farm following 2011 nuclear meltdown. Photo by Kazuma Obara.
PHOTO CREDIT: KAZUMA OBARA
Of the 130 or so animals Hosokawa and his family used to care for, only 30 remain, sustained by feed paid for with ­donations.

Until March 2011, Tokue Hosokawa had only to peer through the window of his home in Iitate village to confirm that all was well with his 100-year-old family business.

The 130 or so horses that once roamed this sprawling farm in Fukushima prefecture have sustained three generations of Hosokawa’s family. Some were sold for their meat — a local delicacy — but his animals were better known for their appearances in commercials, period TV dramas and films, and local festivals celebrating the region’s samurai heritage.

For decades, the 62-year-old horse breeder barely registered that his farm was just 25 miles north-west of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. But the rural idyll was shattered on the afternoon of 11 March 2011, when the facility was hit by a towering tsunami that caused meltdowns in three of its reactors.

Even as people living in the path of the plant’s radioactive plume were fleeing in their thousands, Iitate’s 6,500 residents remained in their homes, convinced by official assurances that the village was safe.

As Iitate’s population plummeted in the spring of 2011, Hosokawa managed to find new homes for more than 80 of his horses. Then, in January this year, he noticed that several among the 30 that remained, mainly foals, had become unsteady on their feet.

Within weeks, 16 had died in mysterious circumstances. Autopsies on four of the horses found no evidence of disease and tests revealed caesium levels at 200 becquerels per kilo — twice as high as the government-set safety limit for agricultural produce, but not high enough to immediately threaten their health.

But two and half years after the accident, Iitate has become a nuclear ghost town. When Hosokawa looks out of his window these days, it is at empty, irradiated fields.

Like several other farmers in Fukushima, Hosokawa ignored a government order to exterminate all of his horses and cows. “I told them that if the animals had been suffering from an infectious disease, then I’d have them destroyed,” he said. “But not for something like this.

“Just after the accident one of the horses gave birth. When I saw that foal get to its feet and start feeding from its mother, I knew there was no way I could leave.”

The order to evacuate Iitate did not come until weeks after the meltdown, as local authorities debated the risk posed to the village, which had only recently been voted one of Japan’s most picturesque places. Rather than acting as a shield, the mountain forests surrounding Iitate had trapped radioactive particles, turning the village into a repository for dangerously high levels of contamination.

'After the accident, my family fell apart. My daughter tried to kill herself … I am relieved that she survived,' Hokosawa said. Photo: Kazuma Obara.
PHOTO CREDIT: KASUMA OBARA
‘After the accident, my family fell apart. My daughter tried to kill herself … I am relieved that she survived,’ Hokosawa said.

Hosokawa, short and wiry with the weathered complexion of a man who spends most of his waking hours outside, sent his wife and their daughter, Miwa, to safer parts of the prefecture.

But, unable to bear the thought of leaving his animals to starve, he stayed put and joined the handful of residents who continue to live in the contaminated homes they were ordered to abandon. Read full report >>

2 thoughts on “Fukushima horse breeder braves high radiation levels to care for animals”

  1. i cannot believe that anyone one stay in the middle of this type of danger. The man and all of the other people living in this town are the walking dead, they just don’t know it yet. Why would anyone continue to breed horses in a dangerous contaminated area like this? If he’s selling horses for meat wouldn’t anyone understand how contaminated the meat is? This would be the same thing as keeping cattle in this area and selling the animals for slaughter. The delicacy that is mentioned would be one that very easily would kill you.

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  2. It is said this nuclear accident, Fukushima, is *worse than Chernobyl. The Japanese are being very closed with info & offers of international help. The reactor apparently continues to leak contaminated water. There already is a massive amount in the ocean, reported to affect the globe. Obviously, a most dangerous place to live & work at the present time, & with the danger of another massive nuclear blow. I credit Mr. Hosokawa for staying & trying to save his horses. For one, his horse farm is a 3 generation legacy, & family, ancestors, are very important in Japanese culture. Two, he apparently loves his horses. He has nowhere to go with them, to save them. As he said, he does not want to abandon them, to leave the remaining @15 to starve. Like many humans in a disaster, he appears to choose to stay with his animals, aware of his personal danger. To go down in the “sinking ship” with them? Obviously the radiation IS affecting his horses. Genetics. Foals not surviving. (Is he still breeding?!!!) And the horses do graze on grass growing in contaminated soil. And his water supply? Obviously the horses are dying from radiation. How much do they suffer? This just might be a slow death of the horses, the farm…& Mr. Hosokawa’s & his family who live nearby but come to the farm to work. He has little money. His daughter tried suicide. There are serious mental health problems that does happen in such a disaster. And it is like living on a time bomb. Does Mr. Hosokawa have his “boots stuck deep in the mud?” He will not budge? What to do? I take the risk of major disagreement, but I have to say, I would seriously consider euthanizing, by injection, the remaining horses. (However, maybe a well-trained bullet to the head is their way.) Blood tests show the horses have radiation particles in them. Most likely the Japanese government will compensate $ Mr. Hosokawa. He can try to start anew someplace else. Regardless, he needs to think of the *reality of his new life. The welfare of his family…& horses. Not to suffer.

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