The Fukushima Daiichi disaster of 11 March 2011 is the biggest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986. It was caused by an earthquake which then brought on a tsunami that in turn led to the destruction of the emergency generators at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant. The result was three nuclear meltdowns that released radioactive material into the atmosphere, and 154,000 people evacuated from the area.
Image source: fukushimawatch.com
Five years on, photographer Keow Wee Loong from Malaysia has ventured into the exclusion zone to capture these haunting images showing the deserted area. When residents were told they needed to evacuate they of course left in a hurry without packing up their belongings – and as a result the shops and houses in the towns are still exactly as they were left.
Loong wore a gas mask but braved the red exclusion zone without any substantial protective clothing, after sneaking in with 2 friends. He went to 4 of the evacuated towns; Tomioka, Okuma, Namie and Futaba, and found that all of them have remained untouched since the terrible event.
Loong noted the eeriness of the now ghost-like towns, saying ‘If you visit any boutique or shopping mall in these towns, you will see the merchandise exactly where it was since 2011, nothing has been changed or moved.’ Calendars remain fixed on March 11 2011, produce sits rotting on the shelves and clothes remain in washing machines in homes and launderettes.
Loong even noticed plenty of valuable items still lying around — it seems no one has been brave enough to come to the towns to loot. As well as cars and electronics such as Playstations and other games consoles, the friends spotted expensive jewellery and gold that had been hastily left behind.
Due to the dangerous radiation levels in the area the friends were only able to stay for a short time, though they could clearly still feel its effects almost immediately, as Loong stated – ‘Upon arrival in the red zone, I could smell chemicals and felt a burning sensation in my eyes.’ Though there are no recorded deaths from the disaster, it is thought that somewhere between 130-640 people could develop fatal cancers in the years to come.
The photographer is an urban explorer and therefore used to setting foot in eery and run down places, but apparently this experience was bizarre even for him; ‘This was one of the creepiest things I have ever seen. I have been to many places, but nothing like Fukushima, the traffic lights are still operating but there are no cars around. It all reminded me of the movie I Am Legend, like stepping foot into a post-apocalyptic city.’
The friends found an abandoned mall particularly unnverving. Loong said – ‘When I walked into the mall I felt an eerie silence, like time had frozen. The mall was completely empty with no people in it but all the merchandise in place and I could explore anywhere I wanted. I always had a childhood dream of going into a mall alone when it is empty, so my dream came true, it was like deja vu, everything is exactly the way it is since 2011, the books marked with 2011, DVD movies of 2011’.
Images courtesy of Keow Wee Loong/Barcroft Images.