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

The newly released images show the starkness and quiet of a Japanese town since its 21,000 inhabitants fled due to radiation concerns.

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."