Eerie Photos of Fukushima's Ghost Towns

Five years after the natural disaster and nuclear meltdown, a once fertile landscape lies abandoned.

Published 1 Nov 2017, 18:34 GMT
A temporary nuclear waste storage facility in Iitate-mura, a city where residents have been evacuated because of elevated radiation levels but where it is permitted to enter. In 2012, the photograph documented a farmer in a white hazmat suit attempting to rehabilitate these fields, hoping to farm again one day. Now, given his advanced age, that will not happen. Iitate-mura, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan
Photograph by James Whitlow Delano

It's been six years since a tsunami caused by an earthquake off the eastern coast of Japan hit the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. 

The wave triggered the largest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. And the land remains contaminated. 

Fukushima Prefecture, once known for its fertility, is now littered with large black sacks containing radioactive soil, organic matter, and stone. It was scraped from farmland in an effort to make the area habitable again for the families that have lived here for centuries. 

Tomioka has been evacuated for years. Tsunami-damaged buildings still stand, cars smashed like fizzy drink cans are piled up, and vending machines washed in by the tsunami have not yet been scrapped. Expanses of bags full of radioactive soil can be seen in the background.  

This logging road in Iitate-mura is being decontaminated. Many experts worry that the forest, which can trap radioactive isotopes, poses a threat for recontamination.

Here, in Iitate-mura, a temporary storage site for contaminated material is beginning to look permanent. 

Semi-permanent storage facilities in nearby Futaba and Okuma will eventually cover 16 square kilometres (6.2 square miles), and the radioactive waste will be stored for up to 30 years while a permanent site is found. But very few locals from these irradiated districts believe the waste will actually be removed.

The contaminated bags seen here will be surrounded by bags of non-contaminated soil. Waterproof sheeting, seen far left, will shield the waste from rain, but many wonder what effect 30 years of sun, rain, and snow will have on the integrity of the sheeting. A fence will later be installed to block outsiders.

Futaba, the closest village to the plant, remains too radioactive for humans to live there. It's expected to stay that way for a long time. Officials estimate the annual dose of radiation for residents would be 50 millisieverts a year. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the average annual dose of radiation from natural sources is 2.4 millisieverts. Medical, commercial, and industrial activites can double that amount.

An open-air radiation monitor in Iitate-mura picks up radiation five times the normal ambient level in Japan.

Monitors like this are a common sight throughout Fukushima Prefecture, where radioactive fallout rained down after explosions at the power plant.

Workers begin decontamination of fields inside the original 20-kilometre (12-mile) no-entry zone around the plant, which is now accessible for workers, but still too radioactive for people to live nearby. 

Five years on, the decontamination work seems endless. 

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