Donald Weber Photographer

Fukushima Exclusion Zone

Life After Zero Hour
Inside the Exclusion Zone, Fukushima, Japan

Just a few weeks ago, close to 50,000 people lived on a coastal plain, in the Fukushima Prefecture of Japan. Today, you’d be lucky to see a few dozen people, still clinging to the idea of normality in a radioactive “zone of exclusion.”

That first morning in March, as the Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Plant was nearing a nuclear meltdown, the authorities evacuated the towns and villages surrounding the facility and created a 40-kilometer Exclusion Zone around it. The 50,000 residents had fifteen minutes to leave, and never returned.

The dozen villages and towns in this death zone were chillingly deserted, as if time had ceased to pass since the moment the earthquake struck. It was like an episode of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone crossed with The Day After—an apocalyptic vision of life in the nuclear age.

I was the first journalist to wander into these “zones of exclusion” just days after the disaster at Fukushima was unfolding. The people I met, those who chose to stay, all expressed the same sentiment, that I would come back, not to forget them. Their government had abandoned them, will I?