Devastated by man… reclaimed by nature: Amazing images reveal how the exclusion zone around Fukushima has been abandoned to become an overgrown wilderness
- The 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster was the worst nuclear power plant accident since Chernobyl in 1986
- In the aftermath of the meltdown, authorities created a 12.5mile exclusion zone which displaced 160,000 people
- Four years on, nature has reclaimed the area where hundreds of homes, businesses and vehicles lie abandoned
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A stunning new photo project offers unprecedented insight into the wild and desolate exclusion zone surrounding the Fukushima nuclear power plant – where tonnes of contaminated soil lie untouched and overgrown forest is engulfing hundreds of abandoned vehicles and homes.
The 12.5-mile exclusion zone around the nuclear plant now resembles post-apocalyptic scenes from The Walking Dead after it was instantly abandoned following the 2011 nuclear disaster.
People deserted the area after warnings of dangerous levels of radioactivity, leaving cars, classrooms and libraries to be swallowed by the overgrown wilderness in stark scenes reminiscent of those seen in the show, in which entire towns have been left in stasis after zombies overran the earth.
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Dozens of vehicles lie abandoned and covered in overgrown bushes along what was once a stretch of road near the power plant
Many vehicles now lie almost completely covered by the forest, which has been left to grow wild since the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster
A motorbike sits chained to a pole where it was left locked in the hours before the tsunami struck the region, triggering a reactor meltdown
After four years without maintenance, bushes and shrubs have slowly swallowed the cars left abandoned in the area
Scenes from the evacuation zone resemble those from The Walking Dead, a post-apocalyptic drama in which zombies have taken over the earth and the lives of those killed have been left behind in stasis
Go karts remain lined up and ready to race in an entertainment park located within the 12.5mile exclusion zone
The Walking Dead shows similar scenes of what look like remote outposts in areas of otherwise undisturbed woodland
Photographer Arkandiusz Podniesinski shows a radiation reading of 6.7 uSv/h inside the dangerous fallout zone
Pictured are cracks in the ground caused by the earthquake, which led to the tsunami that triggered the disaster. The nearby cattle are owned by Masami Yoshizawa, a landowner who returned to his farm after the disaster
A stack of contaminated televisions lie in a heap among the overgrown forests and abandoned buildings near Fukushima
Four years on from the nuclear accident which led to 160,000 people being evacuated from their homes, 120,000 have still not been able to return and some areas are still considered to be too dangerous to enter.
Arkadiusz Podniesinski, a professional photographer and filmmaker from Poland, visited Fukushima last month to see the effects of the disaster with his own eyes.
The 43-year-old said: ‘My goal was to present the actual state of the exclusion zone. Futaba, Namie and Tomioka are ghost towns whose emptiness is terrifying and show a tragedy that affected hundreds of thousands of people.’
Caused by a 50ft tsunami following a major earthquake on March 11, 2011, three of Fukushima’s Daiichi reactors were disabled. In the subsequent days all three cores had melted and in total, four reactors were written off.
As residents and workers were forcibly evacuated by Japanese authorities, everything was left behind. Supermarkets still have products on shelves, school blackboards contain the day’s lesson plans and cars were abandoned in lanes of traffic.
The scenes resemble many in The Walking Dead, in which zombies wiped out most of the population, leaving their lives and possessions frozen in time as the landscape slowly returns to wilderness.
An aerial photograph taken by a drone shows the vast dump sites that contain tens of thousands of sacks of contaminated soil
To save space, the radioactive bags of soil are stacked on top of one another. Some 120,000 residents have not yet been allowed back into their homes
Skeptical landowners who lived within the exclusion zone have been told all the contaminated bags of soil (pictured) will be disposed of
Four years on, a book shop thrown into a state of disarray by the earthquake lies untouched in a chaotic state
Computer screens left covered in waste and animal droppings lie untouched inside a classroom in one of the villages near Fukushima
Today, 20,000 workers clean towns and villages, street by street, house by house. The walls and roofs of every building are sprayed and scrubbed in an effort to allow residents to return home.
But the cleaning process does not stop there. Vast fields are filled with contaminated soil, the top layer of which is disposed of whilst the bottom layers are painstakingly cleaned.
Mr Podniesinski said: ‘When I entered the exclusion zone, the first thing I noticed was the huge scale of decontamination work.
‘This was a way of drawing my own conclusions without being influenced by any media sensation, government propaganda, or nuclear lobbyists who are trying to play down the effects of the disaster.’
Mr Podniesinski added that the people he spoke to are concerned that they will never be able to return home.
‘They do not believe the government’s assurances that in 30 years from now the sacks containing radioactive waste will be gone. They are worried that the radioactive waste will be there forever.’
Many towns in the exclusion zone are closed to visitors. As many are radioactive, appropriate clothing and equipment is necessary. As the area around the nuclear facility is a work in progress, Mr Podniesinski found it extremely difficult to gain access.
Cobwebs now hang between the shelves of this supermarket, where products still lie scattered across the floors
Dozens of abandoned bikes lie chained to bike rails. They are among the network of towns and villages near the power plant that were populated prior to the disaster
The disaster was triggered by an earthquake which generated the tsunami. Pictured is a school gymnasium damaged by the shaking
Supermarket checkouts and products lie strewn over the floor in this eerie image taken of a shop located near the Fukushima power plant
A dining table and seats, complete with bowls and portable cookers ready for food to be prepared, lie untouched
A classroom blackboard still displays the scribbles of what children were learning the moment the earthquake struck
‘It’s not until I travelled to Fukushima and spent two weeks there that I was able to make contact with the right people.’
Despite eventually gaining access to much of the Fukushima disaster zone, the Polish photographer was not able to enter the red or orange zones, and says he hopes to return.
‘What I would like to do is see the orange and red zones, the most contaminated and most deserted. Here time has stood still as if the accident happened yesterday.’
He added: ‘A separate permit is required for each of the towns in the red zone, which is issued only to people who have a legitimate, official reason to go there. No tourists are allowed. Even journalists are not welcome. The authorities are wary, they enquire after the reason, the topic being covered, and attitude towards the disaster.’
Whilst both the earthquake and following tsunami was the cause of the nuclear accident, Mr Podniesinski says they are not to blame.
‘Humans are to blame for the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. This disaster could have been foreseen and prevented.’
Workers donning protective clothing scrub a house in the hope it will allow residents to move back into their homes
Not long after the accident, cows started to get mysterious white spots on their skin. A farm owner suspects that this is due to the cows eating contaminated grass
A trashed piano and musical instruments lie on the floor after residents were evacuated following the Fukushima nuclear disaster
Kouichi Nozawa (pictured) lives with his wife Youko in a room in temporary housing near Fukushima, after being evacuated out of the exclusion zone
Photographer Arkadiusz Podniesinski, pictured wearing protective clothing, said it felt as though time had stood still in the area
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