The Japanese government created a 12-mile "exclusion zone," and 80,000 people were told to evacuate. Cities within that radius have become ghost towns frozen in time: Traffic lights flash above empty streets, signaling to no one; a basket of clothes at the laundromat remain half folded. There are no signs of life.
Those who evacuated might not be able to return home for decades. Families living right outside the evacuation zone fear the government's insistence that their area is safe is not altogether sincere. They know radiation levels have dropped, but say they just don't know what's safe anymore.
Without government funding or compensation from the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, which operates the Fukushima plant, the families say they cannot leave.
Young families worry their children are being exposed to high levels of radiation, but loans and mortgages on their homes have tied them down. They cannot sell their homes, nor can they uproot themselves to a new place without the promise of a job.
Those who were forced to evacuate receive monthly monetary compensation from Tepco. But for volunary evacuees living just outside the exclusion zone, there is little restitution. Tepco will pay a one-time fee of 400,000 yen (about $4,000) for children and expectant mothers, and 80,000 yen (about $800) for other adults.
Last Wednesday, Chiaki Tomitsuka and her son, Yuri, Yoshiko Fukagawa and her son, Kaisei - evacuees from Fukushima Prefecture in Japan - spoke about their health concerns at a forum sponsored by Human Rights Now (a nongovernmental organization based in Tokyo), that was held in conjunction with the 56th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
Fukagawa lived in Koriyama City in Fukushima Prefecture when the nuclear reactor exploded. Like Tomitsuka, she voluntarily evacuated with her two young children, ages 4 and 7, and in June 2011, with support from other mothers, she founded a grassroots organization called Evacuated Mothers With Children From Fukushima. It provides a safe haven where young mothers can express their fears about the possible dangers still facing their children, and organizes rallies and sit-ins call attention to the hazards of radiation and to protest against nuclear power plants.
Asked whether there were any mementos that would remind her of home before the nuclear disaster, Fukagawa replied, "After experiencing such a powerful quake and seeing everything being washed away, any shred of material desire I had has been washed away as well. I am just thankful to have the possession called life."
Tomitsuka and Fukagawa, along with their children, are speaking out as a reminder that the fallout from Fukushima is still affecting many lives.
"Even though it has been a year since the Fukushima Nuclear Plant explosion," says Tomitsuka. "It is not over. Please do not forget us."