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In 2008, Polish photographer Arkadiusz Podniesinski travelled to Chernobl for the first time to document the aftermath of the Ukranian nuclear disaster. He would return multiple times, filming two documentaies in the process.

With more than 20 years having passed since the Chernobl incident and Podniesinski’s first trip to the site, the tragedy must have seemed like a relic of the past, but then came the 2011 tsunami that struck Japan and the subsequent Fukushima nuclear crisis. More than four years later, access to much of Fukushima is still restricted due to dangerous amounts of radiation, but Podniesinski recently traveled to the affected area and brought back haunting images that drive home how abruptly the end of life as residents knew it came, and how many sings of the devastation still remain.

Access to contaminated areas is still restricted, however, and in the case of the towns with the highest radiation levels, separate government-issued passes must be obtained for each one. Podniesinski says that these passes are difficult to come by, with the authorities reluctant to grant them even to journalists. Through his network of contacts, though, and also the reputation he’s earned through his Chernobl projects, he was eventually able to obtain the permissions he needed, although not until after arriving in Japan.

As part of the ongoing clean-up process in Fukushima, workers are removing the top, most irradiated layer of soil from the earth in contaminated areas. The soil is then placed in sacks, stacked one atop another and awaiting transportation to a yet-to-be-determined storage area.

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However, no one in Japan wants the contaminated soil to be stored in the part of the country in which they live, so with nowhere else to go, Podniesinski saw sights such as this.

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Even more concerning is that large-scale soil removal is difficult to carry out in heavily wooded or mountainous areas. Podniesinski points out the potential danger of contaminated soil, left on hillsides and the forest floor, eroding to city lowlands during storms.

▼ Along with bags of contaminated soil, abandoned vehicles were a common sight on Podniesinski’s trip. The photographer says many cannot be removed without first obtaining the owner’s permission.

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Podniesinski quotes a survey stating that only 10 percent of the approximately 120,000 still-displaced residents of the disaster area have a firm desire to return to it someday. Some 65 percent said they have no intention of coming back. In light of some of the conditions he saw, Podniesinski can understand why they came to that decision.

▼ This set table in a restaurant, with dried sauce still in the dishes, shows how sudden the evacuation was.

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▼ An abandoned grocery store, slowly being overtaken by cobwebs

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Still, there are those who still feel an attachment to their communities in the afflicted areas. Podniesinski spoke with Masami Yoshizawa, a rancher who returns to his lands to care for the livestock he had to leave behind. But while some 360 of his cattle remain, the ranch is split by a fissure that opened during the earthquake. More troubling, Yoshizawa says that several of his cows have developed white spots on their skin, which he thinks is a result of their grazing on contaminated grass.

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But perhaps the most chilling photograph of all is this one taken in the town of Futaba, a photo that doesn’t show any visible damage. Take away the man in the protective clothing and mask, and this could be a sleepy street in any of a hundred rural Japanese cities.

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But the man is there, as is the sign above him which reads “Nuclear energy is the energy of a bright future.” Futaba borders Fukushima’s nuclear power plant, and has the highest radiation level in the prefecture.

These are just a sample of Podniesinski’s Fukushima photographs, and there are many more, along with additional stories from his trip, on his website here. As he did with Chernobyl, Podniesinski intends to return to Fukushima again to continue to document the damage and recovery, and also to remind us all of the dangers of taking the issue of nuclear power lightly.

Related: Arkadiusz Podniesinski website, Facebook
Source: Yuruku Yaru
Images: Arkadiusz Podniesinski website