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Inside the Dead Zone

Former nuclear power plant worker Yuji Watanabe, 59, looks at a cow dying of thirst in a field in Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan on 30 March, 2011.  Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Former nuclear power plant worker Yuji Watanabe, 59, looks at a cow dying of thirst in a field in Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan on 30 March, 2011. Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

An assignment for the Times took me to the exclusion area. Started in Minami-Soma, visiting a doctor who  has stayed behind in the exclusion zone to look after the estimated 10,000 people who have chosen to stay behind, against the advice of the government. Some of the local people we talked to expressed anger at the lack of transparency by nuclear plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) and the government for leaving them behind. One man, who had returned to his clothing store to receive a delivery of elementary school uniforms that will most likely never be used, said he would like to throttle the Tepco president.

Staff and members of Japan's Self Defense Forces administer radiation checks at  a health center in Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan on 30 March, 2011.  Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Staff and Self Defense Forces members administer radiation checks. Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Another woman we got talking to was clearly distressed at the thought that this community that she has never left will likely become a ghost town. Later that same lady took us deep into the exclusion zone to introduce us to a resident — a former worker at the nuclear plant it transpired — and then on to see the dozens of cattle and soon that had been left to fend for themselves. We saw several dead cows and another one dying from dehydration. Several stray dogs roamed the deserted streets. Later we returned to Minami-Soma and undertook a radiation check, which we passed with flying colors. Richard Lloyd Parry writes about the experience in today’s Times here (pay site).

Dave McNeil also made a visit, getting about as close to the nuclear power plant as you can without jumping out of a helicopter. Story in the Irish Times here

More of the photos that I took on this trip to the “death zone” can be found at my Photoshelter archive here

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