Google Street View Unveils Images of Japan's Nuke Evacuation Area

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2013-03-28

Google Street View Unveils Images of Japan's Nuke Evacuation Area

A Google Street View crew has produced its first haunting images of the Japanese town of Namie-machi as part of the project to document the evacuated town two years after radiation leaked from a nearby nuclear power plant following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan.

The Street View crew arrived about three weeks ago and has been driving through the town using special safety procedures so that photographs could be taken to show the condition of Namie-machi—also known as Namie—since the evacuation. Before the evacuation, some 21,000 people lived in Namie, which is about 12 miles from the heavily damaged Fukushima nuclear plant, which spread its radiation across a wide area.

The first images collected by the Street View team are now available for viewing, according to a March 27 post by Tamotsu Baba, the mayor of Namie-machi, on the Google Lat Long Blog.

"Two years have passed since the disaster, but people still aren't allowed to enter Namie-machi," Baba wrote. "Many of the displaced townspeople have asked to see the current state of their city, and there are surely many people around the world who want a better sense of how the nuclear incident affected surrounding communities."

The Namie images can be viewed on Google Maps Street View or on a special Memories for the Future Website. The images can also be viewed in a Japanese-only version where citizens of that country can share their photos and memories of the affected areas. Viewers can use the Google Chrome browser and its built-in translation services to translate and read the Japanese text that accompanies the photos.

The sites show before and after images of Namie's streets and buildings, including places where the town had previously held its past Ten Days of Autumn festivals, which once were enjoyed by some 100,000 visitors each year, Baba wrote.

"Many buildings … collapsed during the earthquake, and we still have not been able to remove them," he wrote. "We are also unable to repair damaged buildings and shops nor prepare them for the potential impact of further aftershocks."

Also included are images of Ukedo Harbor, which "once proudly boasted 140 fishing boats and 500 buildings, but suffered some of the worst tsunami damage," Baba wrote. "After being set off-limits, we have not been able to clean up the wreckage on the side of the road, including the many fishing boats that were washed several kilometers inland."

Google Street View Unveils Images of Japan's Nuke Evacuation Area

High levels of radiation across the area continue to make the town and surrounding environs unsafe for residents to return to, he wrote. "Ever since the March disaster, the rest of the world has been moving forward, and many places in Japan have started recovering. But in Namie-machi time stands still. With the lingering nuclear hazard, we have only been able to do cursory work for two whole years."

A key goal of the Street View images project in the town, Baba wrote, is to graphically show the world the dangers and slow pace of progress that are being felt in Namie, he wrote. "We would greatly appreciate it if you viewed this Street View imagery to understand the current state of Namie-machi and the tremendous gravity of the situation."

For the town, its displaced residents and its future, the Street View images can be an important part of the healing process, Baba wrote.

"Those of us in the older generation feel that we received this town from our forebears, and we feel great pain that we cannot pass it down to our children," he wrote. "It has become our generation's duty to make sure future generations understand the city's history and culture—maybe even those who will not remember the Fukushima nuclear accident. We want this Street View imagery to become a permanent record of what happened to Namie-machi in the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster."

Help is needed for the town to recover, Baba said.

"Finally, I want to make a renewed commitment to recovering from the nuclear hazard," he wrote. "It may take many years and many people's help, but we will never give up taking back our hometown."

An early Street View project came to Japan in December 2011 when Google first created the Memories Website. Those photos were collected beginning in July 2011 along more than 27,000 miles across affected regions of Japan.

The latest Street View images are providing photographs in areas that have been generally off limits due to the dangerous radiation that was released from the damaged nuclear plant. The photo team had to follow strict health and safety guidelines so that they could take the images safely without exposing themselves to dangerous levels of radiation.

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