Before and after pics show how Japan has rebuilt since the 2011 nuclear disaster at Fukushima
New images reveal Japan’s progress in restoring the radiation exclusion zone at the centre of the 2011 nuclear disaster at Fukushima.
Explorer Bob Thissen, 34, and a group of photographers visited the deserted exclusion zone towns of Namie, Futaba, Okuma and Tomioka in 2017 and again in 2022 to capture the progress made in restoring the Japanese coastline.
The magnitude 9.0 Tohoku earthquake on 11 March 2011 triggered a 133ft tsunami, which hit the eastern coast of Japan and sent three nuclear reactors into meltdown.
Nuclear fuel was melted and released into the environment, and 300,000 people were initially evacuated from their homes.
After years of rebuilding, Japan plans to reopen the Fukushima exclusion zones by 2030.
Forgotten buildings and overgrown plants in 2017 (left) pictured again, cleaned of radiation or pulled down in 2022 (right)
Six years after the disaster, buildings stand with structural damage (left), and then are finally repaired by 2022 (right)
Bob said: ‘I was astonished at how hard the Japanese worked to get the villages decontaminated and with how respectful they have been during the rebuild.
‘In contrast to Chernobyl and Pripyat, there won’t be any signs of the disaster beside memorials. Most of the former (forbidden) exclusion/red zones like the village of Futaba, restrictions have been lifted for a big part.
‘You can see a lot of families who returned to the former disaster zone. They even built a little Pokémon park for children. Life has slowly returned and the ghost town vibes you now only have in a few streets. Although there’s still a lot of work to do, most of the towns are like a big construction area.
‘On my all my visits to Fukushima I have had mixed feelings. As an urban explorer it’s the perfect post -apocalyptic world and on the other hand you could feel the terror and fear people must have had. Though some may think I’m a trespasser or a dark tourist. I think it’s important to document this aftermath of the disaster.
‘We saw signs of burglary but almost everything in the buildings is still the way it was abandoned in March 2011. In almost every other country the stores and houses would be looted within a week.
‘The most touching memory was the moment I walked into classrooms where children’s bags, shoes and personal belonging still were lying on their desks. There were dead fishes and turtles in fish tanks.
‘It must have been a terrified experience to suddenly get torn away from your known environment and leave everything behind.’
Rusted signs and broken windows pictured in 2017 (left) had been pulled down by 2022 (right) to make way for developments
A Mitsubishi rally car appears relatively unchanged after six (left) and 12 (right) years sat inside the exclusion zone
Buildings pictured in 2017 (L) that could not be saved and had been pulled down for new developments to be built by 2022 (R)
The Tohoku tsunami was most devastating to the people of Japan, killing upwards of 18,000 people.
It was triggered by Japan’s largest earthquake, also named after the northern region of Tohoku, caused by thrust faulting on a tectonic plate boundary.
The region is prone to earthquakes, which often create tsunamis, as a result of underground friction. Deadly tsunamis in 1611, 1896 and 1933 also damaged Japan’s coastline.
One person was confirmed to have died from cancer linked directly to exposure to radiation.
16 were left with physical injuries due to hydrogen explosions, and two workers were taken to hospital with burns.
Nuclear reactors are relatively safe and controlled and cannot explode like an atom bomb, but the expulsion of low-level radioactive waste can be dangerous with prolonged exposure.
After a few weeks, 160,000 people had moved away either from official evacuation demands or voluntarily.
Cleaning the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power station is expected to take 30 to 40 years.
Surrounding areas remain abandoned, overgrown and irradiated.
A bowling alley remains untouched for six years in 2017 (left), then levelled by 2022 to make way for new builds (right)
Buildings pictured standing in 2017 (left image) have been completely pulled down to make way for new flats in 2022 (right)
The World Nuclear Association reported there were 2,313 disaster-related deaths among the evacuees.
While there does not seem to be any increased risk of cancer or radiation-linked health impacts for those in the surrounding areas, 573 are estimated to have died from the physical and mental stress of evacuation.
Japan’s 50 viable nuclear reactors were also shut down after the disaster, subject to regular inspections.
The reactors were partially reopened in 2012, but public fear towards nuclear keeps electricity produced at around 6.5%, down from 30% in 2010.
The evacuation and abandonment of towns had devastating effects on Japan’s already struggling economy.
The region’s £2bn agricultural sector disappeared overnight, reliant on contaminated water, unstaffed and losing local buyers.
Now, Japan looks to release contaminated water into the sea to help rebuild the local fishing industry.
Experts say this might be the best option – and a relatively safe one – for the region to recover fully.
Until residents feel safe to return, Japan’s abandoned eastern coastline will continue to fall further behind.