Research diary outtake:
Hazmat suits and dosimeters, masks and rubber gloves we walked. Through the woodland near their house, abandoned but not forgotten in the Exclusion Zone. I am shown where they used to live, before everything changed.
I am walking with a husband and wife who were forced to leave their home after the nuclear disaster. Like tens of thousands of other evacuees, their lives have been utterly disrupted by what happened at the local atomic power station.
Now uncertainty has become the new normal; of not knowing when or if they may ever return. Uprooted and downsized they now live several hours away, their children forbidden from making this post-atomic journey back to their abandoned home, which they check upon from time to time.
“Wild boar smashed through this window” I am told, and I’m shown the shattered glass inside their house where pigs have run amok. I had seen one earlier as we were driving down an unkempt street near Namie town, before it darted into the bushes.
Along a road left overgrown with years of moss and fallen trees, we climb like spacemen up through the forest: across a river, under a branch, down-wind of the nuclear plant. Our sartorial façades of disposable white clothing turn us into nuclear symbols, alien life in this beautiful wasteland. The only visibly ‘nuclear’ thing out here is us.
I am shown a plant and its unripened berries, held in a latex glove; I make a photograph, transfixed by this strange vista.
The sound of the waterfall and the wind-blown leaves fail to conceal the threat of radiation. The nagging ‘click’ of the Geiger counters make sure of that. We hold onto our dosimeters like handrails in the dark, as they guide us arrogantly across this nuclear landscape. Along with our protective clothing, these devices were lent to us by the sad-faced employees of ‘Tokyo Electric Power Company’ when we entered the Zone.
That evening as we leave the Zone and our bodies are scanned for radiation, the same nuclear workers will bend double, bowing deep apologetic bows – the likes of which I have not yet seen in Japan.
dangerous substances; hazardous material.
A hazmat suit (hazardous materials suit) is a piece of personal protective equipment that consists of an impermeable whole-body garment worn as protection against hazardous materials. Such suitsare often combined with self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) to ensure a supply of breathable air.