After Tomioka the traffic fell away and I found myself alone on the road. The eerie feeling grew as did an air of desertion as the abandoned homes and buildings multiplied. The undergrowth had declared squatters rights over the deserted cars, building equipment, and petrol stations. Then gates appeared blocking access to driveways, restaurants and parking lots of car showrooms. The side roads were manned by ghostly characters in white; with full suits, helmets and masks. The number of police increased as did the number of lorries carrying huge black builders sacks filled with contaminated material.

I was now in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant exclusion zone; the scene of the world’s worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl in 1986. Why had I come? I kept asking myself the same question.

photo by Chris McClean

We may never know the true story of Fukushima. There are millions of tonnes of radioactive material missing and TEPCO (Toyko Electric Power Company - the Fukushima power plant owners) cannot locate the highly radioactive molten cores from the reactors. Nobody knows where they are; the five robots (which have taken two years to build) developed to be sent into the reactors have all failed to return and with the reactors too dangerous for human investigation, the questions remains as to the whereabouts of the missing fuel rods. Have they melted through their containment vessels in the reactors? Into water resources? Into the soil and for how far around? The technology doesn't yet exist for when it all goes wrong, and that is the worrying thing. Because the only thing we know for certain, is that nobody knows the right answers. Or even the right questions for that matter.

photo by Chris McClean
photo by Chris McClean

The only topic more controversial than the environmental impact of the Fukushima accident is its effect on human health. Since the accident there has been claims of cancer, birth defects, and more tied to the radiation, contradicting conclusions by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Science Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR). Both organisations have concluded that it is likely no member of the public will receive enough radiation to cause health problems.

The former Prime Minster of Japan, Junichiro Koizumi has recently accused the current administration of lying that the situation at Fukushima was under control during their successful bid for the Olympics in 2013. The Olympics are due to take place in Tokyo in 2020 and sports such as football’s first round matches are due to take place in Fukushima. There are also huge compensation claims pending as residents outside the exclusion zones are asked to return to their homes. The situation, as Koizumi calls out for the truth to be told, is far from under control.


photo by Chris McClean
photo by Chris McClean
photo by Chris McClean

I reached the outskirts of Minamisoma which sits on the edge of the exclusion zone. The mayor here, Katsunobu Sakurai, declared it a Nonnuclear City, sourcing all its electricity from wind and solar resources from 2015 onwards. In an article for the Japan Times he states “As a citizen and as a resident of an area affected by the nuclear power plant disaster, I must express great anger at this act… It is necessary for all of Japan to change its way of thinking, and its way of life too; to move to become a society like Germany, which is no longer reliant on nuclear power.”Why had I come? A macabre fascination with deserted areas, the notoriety of the situation. I guess I wanted to see it with my own eyes, I wanted to hear first hand how it felt to be a surfer here, and why people would still live here, still surf here. As I drove back towards Tomioka and the road back to Tokyo, Nina Simone’s Baltimore came on the stereo; it seemed appropriate for the situation.

Beat-up little seagull
On a marble stair
Tryin' to find the ocean
Lookin' everywhere
Hard times in the city

In a hard town by the sea
Ain't nowhere to run to
There ain't nothin' here for free
Waiting for a train
Drunk lying on the sidewalk
Sleeping in the rain
And the people hide their faces
And they hide their eyes
'Cause the city's dyin'
And they don't know why
Oh, Baltimore

Ain't it hard just to live?


More beautiful imagery and stories from Chris' time in Japan can be found in Issue 2. Available from https://backwa.sh/store/backwash-issue-two