Google Street View Documenting Japan's Nuke Evacuation Area

The area near the Fukushima nuclear plant was contaminated by radiation after the March 2011 tsunami and earthquake.

A Google Street View team is in Japan for the two-year anniversary of the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, taking stark photographs of a city about 12 miles from the heavily damaged Fukushima nuclear plant, which spread its radiation across a wide area.

The photography project is being conducted in Namie, Japan, a city of about 21,000 people, which remains a ghost town since it was evacuated after the earthquake and tsunami, said Deanna Yick, a Google spokesperson.

"Our team has been helping to map the damage as well as the recovery," including previous Street Maps excursions that mapped the carnage from the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and the deadly tsunami that followed, which killed more than 16,000 people and left another 2,900 missing, Yick said. "We have taken the Street View cars in on many occasions in conjunction with local officials."

An early Street View project came in December 2011 when Google created a special "Build The Memory" Website to document photographs of the devastation and the areas as they were before the carnage. Those photos were collected beginning in July 2011 along more than 27,000 miles across affected regions of Japan.

The latest Street View project will provide photographs in areas that have been generally off limits due to the dangerous radiation that was released from the damaged nuclear plant, Yick said

"The team will be there for a couple of weeks," and is following strict health and safety guidelines so that they can take the images safely without exposing themselves to dangerous levels of radiation. The team is keeping detailed logs of the time spent in the area and is being screened daily for radiation exposure and other factors, in conjunction with local officials, she said.

The idea for the latest project is to carefully document the remains of the city of Namie "so that people around the world can learn what happened and can keep that alive for people of future generations," said Yick. The project also is providing a digital archive to show what residents there have endured and what was there prior to the devastation.

The images being taken now will be added to the "Build the Memory" Website where previous images are already on view, she said. The site is in Japanese, but can be viewed using Google Chrome to get basic translation into English or other languages.

A March 4 post about the project on the Google Blog in Japan includes a message from the mayor of Namie, explaining that he asked for help from the Google Street View team so that people around the world could see what happened there. (View the blog post using translation services, since it is only in Japanese.)