ON 11 MARCH 2011, the Japanese city of Fukushima suffered three consecutive disasters. On 11 March, the city was hit by an earthquake, which triggered a tsunami. The waves knocked out the cooling systems of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, causing fuel rods to melt down and release deadly radiation. In the coming weeks, a total of 470,000 people were evacuated, and an “exclusion zone” was created, with a radius of 20 kilometres from the plant. Five years on, the effects of these tragedies are still being felt in the surrounding region.
When the American photographer Brian Driscoll first visited Fukushima, in 2012, it was not to take pictures, but to visit a friend. But on witnessing the impact of the 2011 tragedy, he decided to return to document the lives of those affected by it. Driscoll spent six weeks in 2014 working on the project—which he titled Life Within 90km, as all his photos were taken no farther than 90 kilometres from the plant.
He spent his first week at Aizu, a community centre in Fukushima “for people who are deeply troubled by what has happened,” talking to residents over tea and snacks. Some were uncomfortable having their photos taken, but even they were eager to speak about their lives. Most residents were angry about how the government had handled the situation. Besides the trauma of the disasters and forced relocation, their key concern was radiation—how it might affect their bodies, crops and livestock, and the water flowing down from nearby mountains.
Driscoll made heavy use of portraits, which he believes have a strong impact while also leaving “room for viewers to think.” With the help of one of the plant’s former security guards, the photographer gained access to the exclusion zone, and spent around ten hours working there in all. He decided to shoot mostly with a film camera, because it forced him to slow down and he felt the subject demanded that he take his time.
The project is unfinished, and Driscoll plans to continue with the work. He does not think that the reportage on the disasters has been extensive enough, and said he would like to see more stories on the communities and people of Fukushima.
Brian Driscoll is a documentary photographer based in New York City.