A Japanese animal lover risks her life every single day by venturing into the Fukushima exclusion zone to feed a heard of 11 cows abandoned after the 2011 nuclear disaster.
The earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit Fukushima in 2011 claimed the lives of over 20,000 people, and forced another 160,000 to leave everything behind and flee to safety. But while people were able to escape the threat of radiation from the damaged reactor at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, animals could not.The area was home to over 3,500 cattle which became known as the “nuclear cows of Fukushima” after being exposed to high levels of radiation. Most of them are dead now, killed by starvation or euthanised by the government, but the few surviving cows now rely on the kindness of humans brave enough to risk their lives to bring them food and water.
Tani Sakiyuki is one of the brave souls who look after the abandoned cows in the Fukushima exclusion area. She was an office worker in Tokyo when the nuclear disaster happened, 7 years ago, but she has since moved closer to the site of the disaster and switched to a night shift, so she could tend to 11 abandoned cows every single day.
In a recent interview with Japanese news station AbemaTV, Sakiyuki said she was inspired to help the abandoned cattle after watching news reports of starving animals and farmers trying to help them despite Government warnings not to enter the Fukushima exclusion zone. She just felt an impulse that she needed to get involved and thought “if I don’t help them, who will?”
In the beginning, she would make the trip from Tokyo to Fukushima Prefecture every two days, to make sure the cows had everything they needed and were in good health. There was still plenty of food and water available to them on location back then, but as time passed, water became scarce and grass became the only food source. Tani travelled to a nearby river to fill a tank with water and bring it to the cows, but the 11 large mammals drank tens of litters per day, so she needed to make several trips. Even so it was barely enough for a day, let alone two.
It soon became clear to Sakiyuki that she needed to dedicate more time to the cows, so she found a workplace closer to the exclusion zone, and switched to a night shift so she could care to them during the day. She now spends four hours with the cows every day, bringing them water and more nutritious food than the grass growing around the area.
She would likely spend even more time with her beloved heard, but exposing herself to dangerous levels of radiation for more than 4 hours would seriously jeopardise her health. The 11 cows are located near the deserted town of Okuma, and only 10 km from Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the source of the radiation.
Tani Sakiyuki is just one of several people who risk their lives to make sure the contaminated animals in the Fukushima exclusion area survive. The Government started asking owners permission to euthanise their cattle two days after the disastrous earthquake of 2011. Many agreed, and around 1,500 cows were reportedly killed, but some refused and continued to care for the cows, at an estimated cost of $2,000 a year.
Two years ago, CNN reported that some of these owners consider the cows as part of their families, and don’t want to have them killed just because they can’t be sold and aren’t worth anything anymore.