November 15, 2013
brisbanetimes.com.au senior reporter
Inside Fukushima’s nuclear exclusion zone. Photo: Dylan Pukall
It is the extreme quiet inside the 30-kilometre exclusion zone around the world’s second-worst nuclear disaster that is the most worrying.
Into this nuclear wasteland stepped a 20-year-old photography student from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast to explore the nuclear damage after the Tohoku earthquake on March 11, 2011, which left Japan’s Fukushima region devastated.
No-one lives there. Japanese businesses and homes are abandoned. Clothes and food sit in shops to rot in the radioactive air.
“It is basically like having a nuclear power plant in the middle of the Sunshine Coast at Maroochydore and then it has exploded,” Dylan Pukall said.
“There’s been a tsunami and everyone from Noosa to Caloundra has had to go, within an hour and half’s drive and never come back.
“You drive for an hour and do not seen anyone.
“It is a ghost town. Every single road that leads to a house or to a business – side streets, main streets – are completely barricaded off.
“Every 100 metres there are signs they say things like ‘Don’t get out of your car’, or ‘Warning: Radiation’.”
Mr Pukall ignored all warnings, asked no-one for permission, could not buy a geiger counter to take with him, and wore no protective gear. He couldn’t read his GPS properly because it was Japanese.
He conceded the trip was risky to his health and would have to have regular check-ups to ensure there had been no adverse side-effects due to the radiation levels.
He hired a car in Tokyo, headed north-east and snuck inside Fukushima’s 30-kilometre exclusion zone to show the world what it looks like, 30 months after the tsunami rocked the nuclear power plant.
Mr Pukall was stopped once by guards at a checkpoint, but worked his way past.
“I said I want to go to Odaka and they said, ‘No, no, no, no-one there’,” he said.
He was ordered back to Tokyo, but instead found a new way – four hours longer along the Fukushima Highway – towards the now deserted town of Odaka.
He found his way to a town of Minamisoma, right on the border of the exclusion zone.
Here, he stayed overnight.
“I got up at 4.30am and just drove in. It was pretty heavy. Even before you get in there are just fields and fields of rubbish, just trash left from the tsunami that has not been cleaned off,” he said.
“There’s cars, shipping containers on the side of the road, excavators that have been turned upside down.
“It is obviously really disturbing.”
“It is just like any street where you live. It is like someone has gone, ‘Go, get out now. Go. You can’t come back.
“Some people have been allowed to come back, but only for an hour or two to grab really important things, but you can’t take your car, you have to take a bus.”
Mr Pukall turned to leave at 6.55am, driving past security guards who were setting up for the day.
“So I guess I was pretty lucky to get out when I did,” he said.
“Who knows what might have happened if they caught me.”
Steady radioactive leaks from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, crippled by the tsunami on, makes the area is the world’s newest nuclear wasteland.
Only the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Ukraine compares.
Apart from a few birds, there are few signs of life at all, even 30 months after the nuclear disaster.
About 19,000 people died in the tsunami and 300,000 people fled their homes.
And at the Fukushima nuclear plant, workers are still trying to stop radioactive water running into the Pacific Ocean.
The Brisbane Times