The story of Hamako Watanabe’s suicide

The Guardian newspapers has reported that a Japanese court has ordered Tepco to pay damages to the family of Hamako Watanabe, who tragically took her own life as a result of the contamination of the family house and land by Tepco’s nuclear fallout:

Fukushima suicide victim’s family wins damages
Family of Hamako Watanabe, who fled nuclear disaster and later doused herself in petrol,
successfully sue plant operator Tepc

Agence France-Presse in Tokyo, Tuesday 26 August 2014 18.03 AEST

“The family of a Japanese woman who fatally set herself on fire after being forced to flee the nuclear disaster at Fukushima has been awarded nearly £285,000 in damages, according to reports.

It was the first time that the operator of the stricken plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), has been ordered to pay compensation for a suicide linked to the 2011 nuclear disaster.”

Mark Willacy describes in some detail the suffering of Hamako and her husband in his book “Fukushima”, Language: English ASIN: B00DGLB18A, Kindle edition. 2013.
The following partial quotes are from this book by Mr. Willacy:

“..Yamakiya, 40 kilometres north-west of the Fukushima Di-iachi nuclear plant. But the meltdowns forced the 12 families to flee. “A community official came about five or six weeks after the disaster and told us this was a radiation hotspot and was designated as a dangerous zone,” Mikio (Wanatabe, the husband of Hamako) recalled. “They said they could not let people live here.”

“Mikio and Hamako,his wife of 39 years, were forced to shift into an apartment in Fukushima City. Hamako hated it, complaining that the walls were so thin that she could hear every word the neighbours said. The Watanabe’s were country people, so the absence of space, the abundance of noise ….were making their new life as nuclear refugees in the city especially miserable. They has also lost their jobs. The chicken farm where they worked for years closed down, because it too was in an evacuation zone. ….

“Mikio was worried. His wife was clearly slipping deeper into depression. She sobbed almost every day…what will happen to us? When can we go home? How can we live without a job? What about the mortgage we can’t pay on the house we can’t live in?….

“He had never seen Hamako like this. They had known each other for as long as they could remember….

“But never had Mikio Watanabe been more worried about his wife than right now. So, when she had begged Mikio to let her come home to Yamakiya just for one night, he agreed. One night’s worth of radiation won’t hurt us, he thought.

So they were sitting on their veranda, sipping a beer, watching the light fade. They had spent the day cutting away vines and clearing as many weeds they could. Hamako had dusted the house and laid out their beds. It was a huge home, with polished wooden floors, cedar panel ceilings and a 16-tatami-mat room at its centre…The only sound was the crickets in the overgrown paddy field…..They could no longer see their contaminated land. It was dark outside.” (ibid, pp 165 – 168)

Willacy continues:

“….It had just gone 6am, and already (Mikio) had cleared another patch of his overgrown property of weeds. Later today, he and Hamako would have to leave their home inside the nuclear evacuation zone and drive back to Fukushima City to that noisy little box. Mikio knew he would have a fight on his hands to get his wife to come with him, because Hamako was still threatening to stay here on her own. She didn’t care about radiation. This is going to be terrible, thought Mikio, as he remembered last night……

“As Mikio turned a corner around the side of the house, he could see a large fire under the canopy of one of their cherry trees. It was below the edge of the driveway so he couldn’t see what was burning. Hamako must be getting rid of one those old futons, he thought…..

“As he approached the cherry tree, he could see smoke still rising. Then he got to the lip of the driveway and looked down. It was Hamako. She was lying on the ground under the cherry tree and she was on fire. Her legs and torso were burning. She was bloated and parts of her were burnt black. Her arms were spread out, and her face was horribly distorted. Hamako’s mouth was open, and flies were swarming around her lips. Mikio leapt down the driveway embankment and started slapping the flames with his hands. He could feel Hamako’s scorched skin. It was burning him. The flames would not go out, so he ran back up the embankment and filled a large bucket with water. But Mikio knew it was too late. The little girl he had played with in the mountains as a child, who became his wife of 39 years and the mother of their three children, was dead.”

“She used gasoline,” Mikio told me later, “I think she died quickly without too much pain.” The 62 year old was close to tears. He told the story of the death of his wife slowly, deliberately.

“…next to the altar was a large photograph of Hamako Watanabe in a canary yellow blouse. She was smiling. It was taken before the nuclear disaster drove her from her home. “If that Tepco accident at hadn’t happened, we would still be living a normal life,” said Mikio. “Hamako must have thought there was no hope left in her life.”

Mikio Watanabe was just one of 160,000 Fukushima evacuees seeking compensation from TEPCO. (By September 2012, TEPCO had received 940,000 claims from people and businesses inside and outside of Fukushima.) But it was hardly a straightforward process. The 58 page compensation application form came with a 158 page “explanation pamphlet”. TEPCO was demanding actual (not copied) receipts for transport and other fees incurred during evacuation, as well as bank and tax statements detailing pre-disaster income (which for many evacuees were still sitting in drawers inside their contaminated homes in the no-go zone.) …..TEPCO would be roundly denounced for being a corporate scrooge. The company would later acknowledge that it had made life even more difficult for people who had already lost their homes, livelihoods and communities.”

“Hamako suffered so much. I want TEPCO to know why she died, how hopelessness triggered her death. I feel such a deep rage. If I sit and do nothing, my wife would have died in vain.”
(ibid, pp 187 -191 Mark Willacy. “Fukushima”. Amazon, kindle edition.)

Nuclear advocates maintain the nuclear disaster was minor, that no one died because of the disaster.

Despite decades long campaigns of propaganda falsely asserting the safety of nuclear industry, that industry contaminated large swathes of land in Japan. Homes, farms, businesses and communities were lost as a result. The industry spawned and guarded a culture in which any dissent was met with punishment and denial.

The Watanabe family were untouched by the natural disaster in Japan of March 2011. Their lives were wrecked, possessions lost, because of the man made and predicted (Nader, Abbott, Ergen, Lapp) disaster foreseen prior to 1967.

All a reactor has to do is boil water. 212 degrees F. How could anyone approve a devise which is capable of transforming itself into a blast furnace, able to melt steel, uranium, plutonium and able to spread myriad radioactive poisons as fallout and polluted water over the tiny living space of Japan?

No doubt TEPCO will appeal the decision in favor of the Watanabe family.

I have quoted the minimum from Mr. Willacy’s book, “Fukushima”. It is a very valuable book, which presents the human and technical aspects of the disaster very well.

It does not cover the fires in fuel pool 4 but that is the only omission as far as I can see.