Fukushima Redux: In Fact, What Do They Have to Return To?

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Cars left behind. On front, visiting home.

Over four years later, the site of the Fukushima nuclear disaster remains a post-apocalyptic landscape despite massive reconstruction efforts, paltry steps forward - a soon-to-be re-opened skating rink - and less-then-impressive P.R. efforts; in the latest, Japan's Prime Minister declared that work to decommission the crippled plant is ongoing and "we will try to ensure that the (reconstruction) plan will make progress." Meanwhile, scientists are reporting immense bird die-offs, children's thyroid cancer rates are soaring, officials are ignoring profound safety issues to dump radioactive water into the sea, 120,000 of 160,000 evacuated residents are still living elsewhere, often in temporary housing, and a reported 90% of them are too frightened to want to return anyway.

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Grocery store

Polish photographer and filmmaker Arkadiusz Podniesinski gathered his courage and hazmat suit to document the scene in a stunning series of photos and short essays "without being influenced by any media sensation, government propaganda, or nuclear lobbyists." Like Chernobyl, which he also visited and filmed after the 1986 meltdown, he found a catastrophe he blames not on earthquakes, tsunamis or technology, but on humans - and one he argues could have been foreseen and prevented.

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Banner reads, "Nuclear energy is the energy of a bright future.”

Armed with permits, swathed in protective gear and navigating checkpoints, Podniesinski visits the 12.5 mile no-go Exclusion Zone, the most contaminated area where no work has been done, residents are unlikely to ever return, and brush is eerily overtaking the carcasses of cars abandoned during evacuation; the orange zone, where some work has been begun and residents can visit but not live in their homes; and the green zone, where huge-scale contamination work is ostensibly in its final stages. He shoots some of the 20,000 workers painstaking scrubbing buildings and attempting to clean "every piece of soil," removing the top and most contaminated layer and putting it into plastic bags to be taken to one of several thousand dump sites. But they simply move it from town to its outskirts, from one spot to another, creating massive deadly panoramas: "The sacks are everywhere. They are becoming a permanent part of the Fukushima landscape."

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Toxic legacy, aerial view

Seven years ago, Podniesinski ended his documentary on Chernobyl by calling it "a huge lesson for our generation." With Fukushima, he wonders if we've learned anything. Both sites of human folly, he says, constitute "an immense experience, not comparable to anything else. Silence, lack of cries, laughter, tears and only the wind answers."

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