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Fukushima forever: a portrait of absence and uncertainty via Wallpaper

Almost a decade after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Giles Price photographs those who dare to return

BY TOM SEYMOUR

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Theoretically, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, 250km north of Tokyo, was protected from tsunamis by a 30m sea wall. But this wave was much, much higher. Floodwater spilled into the reactor, disabling the plant’s power supply. The cooling systems failed, uranium fuel started to melt, and radioactive gases built up inside the reactors. Engineers released the gases to stop the reactors blowing their top, discharging, in a mushroom bloom, radioactive fallout into the surrounding ocean and forests. More than 150,000 people living in the vicinity were forcibly evacuated.

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Faced with inconclusive scientific consensus on the long-term effects of radiation in the area, the Japanese government began an aggressive rebranding exercise in 2017. It financially incentivised residents to return to Namie and Iitate, two peaceful towns once home to more 27,000 citizens, both exposed to extreme radioactivity. Those who have decided to return will be the first to populate what, for the last decade, has been a virtually deserted landscape. Fukishima’s reactor is yet to be repaired. Some scientists believe the exclusion zone surrounding it will not be safe for at least another 50 years.

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Now, a major new photography series by British photographer Giles Price, titled Restricted Residence, examines the evacuation – and eventual return – of the Japanese citizens of Namie and Iitate. ‘My focus was to visualise the potential unease and stress of living in this altered environment,’ Price tells Wallpaper*. ‘I wanted to examine the fear of radiation – its long-term psychological impact.’ The book, published by Loose Joints, charts the experiences of some 150,000 citizens returning to seemingly ordinary lives within the exclusion zone.

Price captured workers tasked with cleaning up and reconstructing the towns, at a cost of $50 billion to Japanese taxpayers. He photographed the medical officers drafted in to ascertain whether it would ever be safe, alongside much more quotidian figures – local mechanics, shopkeepers, office workers. He found and followed individual stories: the taxi driver paid a government retainer because there are so few customers, or a farmer who tends to contaminated cattle daily (which he can’t sell but refuses to put down).

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One evacuee from Fukushima, Ryoko Ando, reflecting on the experience for a Japanese medical journal. ‘We found ourselves drowning in numbers [and] strange units we had never heard of,’ she wrote. ‘Radiation had no role in our consciousness until then; suddenly we found that it was part of our lives, without having a yardstick to gauge it and form a judgment.’ As Price’s photography brilliantly attests, that inability to form judgment remains almost a decade on, even as the greatest spectacle on earth arrives in Japan. §

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