Sci/Tech

Fukushima farmers appeal to Tokyo with live bull

TOKYO (AP) — Two Japanese farmers whose livelihoods were wrecked by the 2011 nuclear disaster staged a protest Friday at Tokyo's agriculture ministry, scuffling briefly with police as they unsuccessfully tried to unload a bull from a truck.

Masami Yoshizawa and fellow farmer Naoto Matsumura have remained at their farms to care for their own and others' abandoned livestock in areas where access has been restricted due to radiation fears since the March 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant.

The two drove down from Fukushima, bringing the black bull in the back of a truck, to appeal for help with the livestock, some of which have developed unexplained white spots on their hides. "Stop, stop, stop, stop," shouted a policeman in a blue uniform who climbed into the back of the truck and blocked the farmers from leading the bull onto the pavement in front of the ministry. "It's dangerous. Absolutely not!"

Yoshizawa and Matsumura are among thousands of farmers who lost their livelihoods when their farms, produce and livestock were declared off-limits and unsafe after the nuclear plant, crippled by a massive earthquake and tsunami spewed radiation into the countryside.

They want the farm ministry or other government agencies to help them figure out what is causing the spots on the animals' hides and to stop culling abandoned livestock and burning radiation-contaminated vegetation they need to feed the animals.

"The ministry told us they don't know what is causing the spots. Well, they need to do more research and figure it out. They can't just run away, saying they don't know," Yoshizawa said. Shouting through a megaphone, he urged the farm minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, to come down and take a look for himself. Hayashi was not at the building, but at the parliament, and no other officials responded to Yoshizawa's appeal, though the two were allowed to present a written appeal at the ministry's reception desk.

More than 100,000 "nuclear evacuees" have left areas near the nuclear plant, many resettling elsewhere, resigned to giving up their homes in areas that may remain hazardous for decades. Though some areas are gradually being cleaned up and cleared for re-occupation, in many areas feral cattle, pigs, dogs and other animals wander the overgrown fields and streets of the nuclear ghost towns.

Rice farmer Matsumura defied evacuation orders to stay in Tomioka, once a town of 16,000, though other members of his family left. He is tending 40 cattle, while Yoshizawa says he has 360 on his "Hope Farm." Altogether, the two say they are trying to look after 600 head of cattle.

"Discarded towns, discarded evacuees. The cattle and people are still living. We cannot remain silent," Yoshizawa said.

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