The Nuclear Ghost Towns of Japan

Google recently released a “street view” of Namie, one of the abandoned cities near the melted-down Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear reactors. So now you can stroll through the town and see eerie images of lonely bicycles, headstones scattered by the tsunami, weeds taking over yards, and fully stocked soda vending machines sitting idle by the side of the road. Traversing the town by street view gives you a palpable feeling of the emptiness.

The Atlantic Monthly has collected some of the most haunting images:

They remind me of Pripyat, Ukraine, the small city closest to the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown:

How many more towns, cities, and landscapes will have to be abandoned, possibly for centuries or millennia, because of our nuclear disasters? How many more children will be deformed by the genetic damages of nuclear radiation, which can be passed down through generations? It seems that we’re ever optimists, always wanting to believe in the latest claims about new technologies that will benefit humankind. Are abandoned cities and landscapes worth it?

At the other end of the scale of this kind of waste lie the empty cities in China being erected in a kind of gold-rush-style real-estate boom, with not enough residents who can afford them:

Empty cities not only litter the landscape, they stand as monuments to the profligate waste of the modern economy. A lot of resources go into making them. To have them then lie unused seems tragic–on top of the human tragedies of our nuclear catastrophes (worldwide cancer deaths from Chernobyl is estimated at around 27,000). Entire landscapes are also uninhabitable by humans.

When these damages are more visible, we tend to react to them more strongly. Just after the Fukushima disaster struck, both Germany and Japan began to pull back on their support for commercial nuclear power. But these effects wear off. We forget and return to the shiny lure of cheap energy. Maybe these pictures will help us remember.


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