Tuesday 21 November 2017

Google's eerie postcards from a nuclear wasteland

A still from Google Maps shows stranded ships left behind after the tsunami two years ago
A still from Google Maps shows stranded ships left behind after the tsunami two years ago
A Google car moves through Namie town in Japan, a nuclear no-go zone where former residents have been unable to live since they fled from radioactive contamination from the Fukushima nuclear power plant two years ago.

David McNeil Tokyo

It is a nuclear-era Mary Celeste, a town left virtually untouched since its 21,000 residents fled two years ago. Rubble and roof tiles still litter the streets from the huge earthquake that dislodged them in March 2011.

Homes and schools sit empty and abandoned, poisoned by the invisible radioactive payload from the nearby Daiichi nuclear plant that settled over everything here in the days after the Fukushima meltdown began.

Namie in Fukushima prefecture will always be synonymous with the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Like the Ukrainian city of Pripyat, it is a nuclear ghost town, gradually being reclaimed by nature.

Now Google Street View is giving Namie's nuclear refugees a virtual tour of their uninhabitable streets and homes. The firm responded to the mayor's request by sending its camera-equipped cars to create a panorama of stitched digital images.

For the first time since the disaster began, the town's residents can see what they left behind.

"It's wonderful but scary at the same time," says Yukiko Kameya, from the nearby ghost town of Futaba.

Google had to get permission to enter the 20km no-go zone around the ruined hulk of the Daiichi plant. Police checkpoints guard the entry and exit points to the area. Most of the 120,000 people who once lived inside the zone believe it will be years, perhaps decades, before they can return.

Mayor Tamotsu Baba hopes the images will serve another purpose. "I imagine there are people around the world who also want to see the tragic aftermath of the nuclear accident," he says in a video released to mark the Google project. He adds that he wants the imagery to become "a permanent record of what happened" to his town.

Irish Independent

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