Eight years after the Fukushima disaster, it is an appropriate moment to sum up what has changed since these tragic events in the contaminated areas around the damaged Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant. This is best illustrated by the map below.
The efforts of thousands of workers and billions of dollars spent on decontaminating the contaminated areas are beginning to bear fruit. In the cleaned areas — marked on maps in previous years in orange and green — decontamination works have been completed and the evacuation order lifted. As a result, most of the residents of Tomioka and Namie, two of the largest cities around the damaged power plant may return to their homes. Yet intensive cleaning and demolition works are still being carried out. Buildings that were damaged during the earthquake or due to lack of upkeep because the residents had fled from the radiation are still being repaired or torn down. As a result, many homes are unfit for further residence and have to be dismantled and the furnishings, electronics, clothing and food inside disposed of. Public buildings are in a similar state: not only were shops and restaurants destroyed, so too were both of the local hospitals.
The scale of these changes is best seen from the air. In places where buildings once stood, today there are only empty lots covered by a thin layer of orange sand or gray gravel. There are perhaps more of them then there are built-up plots. And the work is not yet finished.
Unfortunately, decontamination and cleaning are not enough to revive the city. Residents are needed, but they do not want to come back. They remain suspicious of the actions of the government, which assures them that radiation levels have fallen to safe levels. They remember how, just a few years ago, this same government unilaterally raised them. Additionally, the newly opened cities still lack infrastructure — shops, hospitals and restaurants. And, chiefly, neighbors. As a result, both cities remain practically empty. Eight years after the disaster and two after their opening, only about 5% of residents have returned. The vehicles and people seen on the streets only create the appearance of an inhabited city. The majority are cars belonging to construction companies and workers here to clean the area and demolish buildings.
That is why it’s important to document the consequences of a nuclear disaster. Many of the devastated, abandoned and contaminated buildings and interiors I have photographed no longer exist. They have been cleaned and restored or demolished. This is obviously right and necessary. My task, however, is different. I want to preserve as many testaments to the nuclear disaster and human tragedy as possible. Despite eight years having passed, there is still a huge number here, particularly in the red zones — the most radioactive ones that are still closed and where residents are not allowed to return. Although I could be wrong, there is no indication they ever will. Let them serve as a warning to future generation so they do not forget what the careless handling of nuclear energy can lead to.