Fukushima(then)Now: Friday, March 11th, 2011, 14:47 o ‘clock, Fukushima. At this day, Japan was hit by a severe earthquake followed by a Tsunami. In the next days the media were reporting incessantly about destruction, fleeing people, whole landscapes being eradicated and pictures of the exploding nuclear power plant Fukushima Daichi. Though homes can be rebuilt, fields regrow and streets be plastered again, the most severe part of the catastrophe was the damage taken by the power plant and the resulting, nuclear meltdown.
The radiation widely spread across Japan, but Fukushima, the prefecture where the power plant is located, was hit the hardest. An evacuation order came in force within a radius of 30km around the plant. The residents had to leave their homes immediately and to leave everything behind as it was. The evacuation zone was further extended to the northwest after a short period of time. I’ve always been very interested in this topic but I could hardly hear anything about it lately. What happened with Fukushima after its name became a synonym for a shattering nuclear disaster to the world? A lot of what I found about it was either one sided or seemed instrumentalized, noncredible. I wanted to picture the current state on my own, to see and experience it for myself.
In November 2015 my journey led me through almost each of the radiated regions in Fukushima and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Ghost towns, unpassable streets, abandoned vehicles or even completely restored cities. What happened in the evacuation zone shows itself in many different shapes. The coastal towns in the east show heavy traces of the impact of the tsunami. The enormous powers of water left its presence there. Collapsed buildings, deformed vehicles or wide, plain fields, where once whole districts used to be. In contrary, there are more rural regions in north-northeast surrounded by hills and forests. They’ve been left untouched by the tsunami and only show impacts of radiation. Empty houses ravaged of time and batches of black bags filled with radiated soil. I mainly put my focus on the cities Tomioka, Futaba, Okuma, Namie and parts of Minamisoma as well as Naraha. They are located in the immediate vicinity of the nuclear power plant, in the east along the coast.
Further west of the evacuation zone is the city of Koriyama, about 80km from the damaged power plant. To my surprise, most roads were in a very good condition and partly led through beautiful mountains. My experience on the route between Koriyama and the coast was bizarre, day by day. On empty roads between high mountains surrounded by colorful autumn trees, past checkpoints, which reminded me, together with the ever more energetic clicking of the Geiger counter, where my path was leading me. Once in a while I was accompanied by another car, mostly trucks heading towards one of the cities. I wasn’t aware that one of the opened side streets apparently led partly the Red Zone. Only the high reading on my Geiger counter and the police patrols, who immediately checked me, indicated the red flag. Stopping was allowed, not recommended though. Leaving the car strictly forbidden. And this should only be one of the many police checks on my journey.
Four years after my last visit I decided it’s time to come back and this time even with official permission for the red zone parts of the cities of my last visit. Both excited and somewhat scared of what would have changed, or if anything had changed, I started out to retrace my old paths and make new ones.
All images and text © Benjamin Kis
By Benjamin Kis
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