Nearly three years after Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster displaced thousands in the surrounding region, a single farmer has crossed back into the evacuation zone, risking radiation for the sake of hundreds of cows left abandoned.
Defying government orders to keep out, Masami Yoshizawa is back on his farm in the shadow of the failed nuclear power plant caring for his and other ranchers' cattle in protest of Japan's plan to slaughter them. After the March 2011 disaster, hundreds of animals were left to fend for themselves on vacant, radioactive ranches; the Ministry of Agriculture has called them "walking accident debris," ordering them to all be killed.
For Yoshizawa, who renamed his farm Ranch of Hope, the abandoned animals are more than just debris to be discarded.
"These cows are living testimony to the human folly here in Fukushima," says Yoshizawa, in an interview with the New York Times. "The government wants to kill them because it wants to erase what happened here, and lure Japan back to its pre-accident nuclear status quo. I am not going to let them."
Yoshizawa says he was inspired to return, despite dangerously high levels of radiation, after seeing entire herds of cows dead near their troughs, waiting to be fed by farmers who had been forced to leave them behind. He worries that the kill-orders are an attempt to sweep the issue of Fukushima's ongoing fallout under the carpet.
"If authorities say kill the cows, then I resolved to do the opposite by saving them," he says.
So far, officials have made no attempt to stop Yoshizawa, who has garnered support from other ranchers, supporting his efforts by donating feed for the cows. Due to constant exposure in the years since the accident, some of the animals show signs of radiation poisoning, though most of the cattle deaths have so far been from starvation and neglect -- needless deaths Yoshizawa is now risking his own life to prevent.