Deserted town near Fukushima N-plant to be preserved in photos

Deserted town near Fukushima N-plant to be preserved in photos
Yoshito Konno photographs autumn leaves in the Akougi district of Namie, Fukushima.

NAMIE, Fukushima - Evacuees from Namie are taking photos of their hometown, where residency is prohibited due to radiation from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, to record its scenery for later generations.

Former residents of the Akougi district of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, where radiation exposure levels exceed 50 millisieverts a year, began taking photos of their hometown in April, when they were allowed to return for a short period each month. They plan to compile the photographs into a book.

Living as evacuees outside of the town, they want to preserve Namie's beautiful scenery at least in photos, as they may never be able to return for good.

Before the nuclear crisis, 300 residents from 80 households lived in the district, which is located 25 kilometers northwest of the nuclear power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. As a massive amount of radiation was emitted due to hydrogen explosions at the plant, they have no prospect of returning home.

Yoshito Konno, 69, head of the Akougi district, now lives in a temporary housing unit in Nihonmatsu in the prefecture. He told other evacuees from the district that their hometown will disappear if nothing is done. With their support, Konno and a team of volunteers are photographing seasonal scenes there and gathering local residents' commentary, which will be compiled into a 200-page book in the coming year.

On Nov. 9, five residents, including Konno, took about 300 photos of the red and yellow autumn foliage for three hours when they were allowed to return to the town. Absorbed in the sounds of the clicking shutter, then peering into the viewfinder in silence, he felt a rush of emotion. He wanted to avert his eyes from the desolate scenes of his hometown.

The weeds had grown to a man's height. As Konno pushed his way through them, walking toward his house, grasses contaminated with radioactive substances brushed against the protective suit he was wearing. The house and garden had been overrun by rats and wild boars.

His dosimeter showed the radiation level was too high to live there, but this strengthened his resolve. "Even if I lose my one and only hometown, I still can document it. I want to preserve a record of the town for future generations."

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