One day in late July 2017 I decided to get back into the urban spelunking game, with a trip out to the abandoned towns of the Fukushima nuclear exclusion zone. Since the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and reactor meltdowns, the Japanese government has slowly been reopening areas closer to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, and while it remains tricky, a lot of areas can now be visited legally and (mostly) safely.
The trip started with a train from Tokyo to the nearest city Iwaki (いわきし Iwaki-shi).
From there it was a slow train to the coastal outskirts of Fukushima Prefecture.
Nearly at the end of the line was the first sight of something soon to be common – stockpiles of large black bags of radiation-contaminated soil. All soil is being tested inside the entire disaster area, and any found to be contaminated is being removed and shipped out for storage.
Tatsuta Station (たつた)
Tatsuta isn’t a town from what I can tell, just a station. It’s on the edge of the evacuation zone and was partially destroyed and shut down following the 2011 disaster. The station reopened in 2014 as a rail terminus. Trains still do not go any further in.
A new station structure was being built/rennovated, presumably with plans to eventually restore the train line to isolated towns like Tomioka and Namie.
This area is far enough inland that the tsunami didn’t hit, and it’s toward the edge of the exclusion zone, but was nonetheless evacuated 2011-2014 and has remained mostly abandoned.
Businesses sat empty, and there were no people around at all, apart from the two other people who were on the train.
Another soon to be common sight – geiger counters. Most areas now read at levels ‘safe for long term habitation’.
From here on you have to get a charter bus to any towns further in.
On the outskirts of the zone, the Japanese government has been building new houses for those who lost theirs in the quake and tsunami. All seem to be empty, possibly because the residents have settled elsewhere by now.
This is the road to the second nuclear plant – Fukushima Daini. It was successfully shut down after the earthquake.
The cooling tower is visible on the skyline.
The sister plant which suffered the meltdown – Fukushima Daiichi – is just south of the next town, Tomioka.
Tomioka (とみおかまち Tomioka-machi)
While tsunami debris had (mostly) been cleared from the streets, it seemed decontamination work had only just begun at Tomioka, one of the two towns closest to the meltdown. Evacuation orders were only lifted two months earlier, and there were a few hazmat-suited work crews around, and a single shop (a supermarket) had opened to service them, as well as workers continuing the long process of decommissioning the damaged Daiichi plant.
Apart from decontamination workers, the majority of the town was still abandoned.
Half-packed possessions remained just sitting around.
Structures that survived the earthquake better were being used as dumping grounds for goods and possessions from elsewhere
Houses closer to the coast in the lower part of the town suffered huge tsunami damage.
This side-of-the-road restaurant and home had been abandoned and overtaken by the elements.
I went exploring inside.
Continue reading part 2 here – featuring the main streets of Tomioka, a pachinko parlour (casino), earthquake damaged buildings, an abandoned school, and abandoned newly built homes.
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