Fukushima: Summertime Images Show Nature Assert Itself After a Nuclear Disaster

Nature is having its say in the abandoned surroundings of Japan’s failed Fukushima nuclear plant, reclaiming the area in a spectacular display of its power.

Seven summers have passed since a tsunami created by a powerful earthquake crashed into the Japanese coast in March 2011, damaging the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and causing a nuclear meltdown, hydrogen-air explosions and a leak of radioactive material.

Fukushima and its environs faced a nuclear catastrophe, prompting then prime minister Naoto Kan to order the immediate evacuation of those who lived within 12 miles of the plant, later expanding the order to those living within 18 miles of Daiichi. Almost 100,000 people still cannot return home.

Access to what came to be known as the Fukushima Exclusion Zone is still strictly regulated, but one photographer working for the Japanese Asahi Shimbun newspaper visited the areas designated as “difficult-to-return zones” in July, shooting pictures with a drone and a helicopter. The stunning work was published this week.

Tetsuro Takehana, who lived in Fukushima for a decade as a child, returned to a place where time had both stood still and moved on. “It was as if time had stopped,” he said, describing the scenes. “And yet the grass and trees continue to grow.”

The parking lot of the Okuma outlet of Plant 4, a large shopping mall that used to be packed with visitors, is slowly being taken over by weeds creeping through the cracking asphalt surface. At the playground of an elementary school, only football goalposts can still be spotted among the grass reaching to the height of an adult’s waist.

Elsewhere in the Fukushima Prefecture, in Futaba, one abandoned car is seemingly sinking in a field of thick, brightly green grass. Also in Futaba, rampant weeds have reached the second floor of deserted houses.

Not even the buildings owned by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the Daiichi nuclear plant operator, used to house company employees were left untouched, with weeds growing through to the second floor and engulfing the cars still parked nearby.

“In the day after humans disappear, nature takes over and immediately begins cleaning house—our houses,” wrote journalist Alan Weisman in his 2007 best-selling book The World Without Us, which imagines a world in which humans no longer exist, adding “Change is the hallmark of nature. Nothing remains the same.” Not even nuclear wastelands.

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