The nuclear disaster at Fukushima in 2011 has turned 12-mile exclusion zone around the nuclear plant into an overgrown wilderness, heavily contaminated with radiation. Abandoned vehicles are besieged by plant life as nature reclaims its territory. Yet the levels of radioactivity remain dangerously high.
These pictures, taken four years after the accident, show the encroaching forest around the plant, as well as classrooms and libraries in the surrounding towns engulfed in dust and cobwebs. More than 160,000 people were evacuated from their homes after the disaster, with most still unable to return due to contamination. Polish professional photographer Arkadiusz Podniesinski visited the site last month to “present the actual state of the exclusion zone,” capturing images from the ghost towns of Futaba, Namie and Tomioka.
Four of the reactors at the plant were crippled by the 50-foot tsunami that struck following the huge earthquake. Three of the reactors suffered core meltdowns. The evacuation was swift, forcing residents to leave everything behind. More than 20,000 workers have been employed to clean up the towns, scrubbing the walls and floors of every building. Outside, the contaminated topsoil is being removed from the exclusion zone in the hope of one-day allowing residents to return home.
“When I entered the exclusion zone, the first thing I noticed was the huge scale of decontamination work,” said Podniesinski. “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.” Of the displaced residents, Podniesinski said: “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.”