On March 11, 2011, a magnitude-9 earthquake rocked Japan, causing a devastating tsunami. In the aftermath, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, one of the country’s largest, experienced a level seven nuclear meltdown, causing the evacuation of over 160,000 people. The 20 km area has been blocked off by the Japanese government for the last four years, but recently Polish journalist Arkadiusz Podniesinski was allowed inside the contamination zone to take some thought-provoking photos, demonstrating just how quickly nature can reclaim the land. Podniesinski, who also took pictures in Chernobyl, had this to say about visiting a nuclear fallout zone, “[It was] An immense experience, not comparable to anything else. Silence, lack of cries, laughter, tears and only the wind answers…a huge lesson for our generation.”

Residents who were unable to take their vehicles simply abandoned them on the road. Fukishima Highway

What was once a row of cars is barely more than a tangle of vines as nature attempts to reclaim the land.

fukishima cars 3

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But the thousands of unwanted, abandoned automobiles are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Fukushima.

fukishima car 2

Many of the items being “recycled” by nature are still highly radioactive and full of toxic chemicals, which are poisoning the land, the groundwater and the ocean only a few miles away.

Fukishima Radiation

For the past few years, the government has been busy, with over 20,000 workers attempting to decontaminate the land. While they have made significant progress, most people are hesitant to even think about returning to the area.

Fukishima Abandoned Street

In the meantime, mother nature seems to have her own plans, as many homes and buildings are now crumbling to the ground.

Fukishima Home

 Soon, there won’t be much of a town left to restore.

Fukishima Street

The problem with nuclear energy is that it extends well beyond the parameters of nature’s usual cleanup abilities. For many of the people who returned illegally to help the abandoned animals here, the problems of ground and water contamination are all too real.

Naoto Matsumura stands beside an abandoned ostrich farm. Without the help of dedicated people like him risking his life for them, many of these animals would be dead.

Fukishima Abandoned ostrich

Rancher  Masami Yoshizawa was another who returned to the contamination zone to take care of his cows, who he was forced to leave behind after the disaster. Although the animals were well fed from grazing in the overgrown fields, he soon noticed tiny white spots all over them.

For the past few years, Mr. Yoshizawa has been documenting these mysterious spots, which he believes to come from eating the contaminated grass here. However, despite much effort on his part, the Japanese government remains officially uninterested in what is happening to these animals and refuses to provide funding for any additional research.

Fukishima Spotted Cows

 

The government’s single-minded determination to repopulate this area comes following much research to the contrary at sites like Chernobyl, where the radioactive isotopes, still lingering in the trees and mountains, were carried back down into the city by the rain, repeatedly recontaminating everything in its path. Despite their best efforts and all of their claims to the contrary, it will be a very long time before it will be safe for anyone to live here again, posing the important question “Are these towns to remain deserted forever?”

Nuclear disasters are unique in that they have such a lingering effect on the land. Despite all of nature’s best efforts to reclaim and recycle, the radioactive isotopes that were released here have a half-life of 30 years, which means that it will be at least that long before the toxic effects have worn off. Perhaps, instead of trying to resettle the area it should be studied, a living reminder of why humans need to be more careful with our precious home.

All image source: Arkadiusz Podniesinski / REX 

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