It’s been over three weeks since a magnitude 8.9 earthquake and massive tsunami hit north-east Japan, leading to a dangerous nuclear leak at the Fukushima-Daiichi power plant. While most camera crews and journalists have deserted the area, one Japanese man filmed his drive inside the exclusion zone around the stricken plant.
An estimated 70,000 people living within a 20-km perimeter around the Fukushima-Daiichi power plant were evacuated after the March 11 quake due to radiation, while two weeks later another 130,000 residents living between 20 and 30 km of the plant were advised to "leave voluntarily" or stay indoors as much as possible. The Japanese government said on April 8 that it was considering extending the evacuation zone even further, a day after the country suffered a strong 7.1 aftershock.
Video posted by Tetsuo Jimbo on Videonews.com's YouTube channel.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Lorena Galliot.
"Someone had to film in there. Why not me?"
Tetsuo Jimbo is the founder of the Japanese Web TV videonews.com. He was one of the first to document the scene inside the exclusion zone around the Fukushima power plant, and uploaded his footage on YouTube on April 5.
A colleague of mine and I drove up to 2.4 km close to the Fukushima-Daiichi power plant. According to two Geiger counters [radiation monitors] I brought, the radiation level there was of 125 microsieverts per hour, which is much too high for people to stay for extended periods of time [humans are ordinarily exposed to radiation levels of 0.1 microsieverts per hour]. The monitors beeped constantly throughout my drive, and their pitch increased sharply as we got closer to the power station.
That was the scariest thing about my drive, I thought: the radiation levels were extremely dangerous, yet you couldn’t see, smell or feel anything in the air. Everything looked and felt normal. It was like an invisible enemy.
I wore a face mask and a raincoat with a hood, but no other protective clothing. I took iodine tablets and spoke to several radiation specialists before going: they didn’t encourage me to go, and warned me not to stay over two hours. I’ve calculated that I may have been exposed to about a year’s worth of “normal” radiation.
“The streets were completely deserted”
The streets were completely deserted. In the two hours I spent inside the 30-km evacuated zone around the plant, I crossed just four groups of vehicles: one lone truck, one convoy of trucks that appeared to be coming from the power plant, one vehicle carrying men in protective gear – possibly plant workers – and two cars.
There was no cell phone coverage, no power, the traffic lights were out. The roads were very heavily damaged in places, and one thing that worried me was that, if our car got stuck in one of the cracks caused by the quake, there would be no-one to call for help. We were very careful, and in fact I found the damage less severe than I had expected. Many houses were still standing, but it looked like a ghost town.
It was a no man’s land, but there were still plenty of animals. I ran into a group of stray dogs at one point, as well as cattle. The cattle should be able to survive on their own: there’s lots of grass, as well as several streams (although the water is probably contaminated). As for the dogs, three weeks have passed but they didn’t look especially skinny. Either their owners left behind lots of food, or they manage to find food in abandoned houses, or someone is feeding them.
“This is the risk if we continue building nuclear power plants”
I’m not sure what pushed me to go despite the health risks. I went because it’s there, and no-one else was going. Someone had to film in there, why not me? The area around Fukushima won’t be inhabitable for a very long time, maybe ever. By posting this footage online, I’m trying to send out the message that this is what we risk if we keep building nuclear plants.”