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Google Street View explores Japan's Fukushima nuclear zone

The Web giant brings its team inside the nuclear no-go territory to photograph a desolate ghost town.


Namie-machi was a small bustling city that used to sit near the Fukushima nuclear plant. But on March 11, 2011, that changed. After a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami destroyed the town and the plant's infrastructure, causing hazardous waste to leak into the surrounding land, every single one of Namie-Machi's 21,000 residents had to abandon their homes.

Working with Google Maps and its Street View imagery, the mayor of Namie-machi is now providing the city's previous residents, and anyone else who wants to see, a glimpse of what the town currently looks like.

"Two years have passed since the disaster, but people still aren't allowed to enter Namie-machi," Namie-machi's mayor Tamotsu Baba said in a blog post. "Many of the displaced townspeople have asked to see the current state of their city, and there are surely many people around the world who want a better sense of how the nuclear incident affected surrounding communities."

Collapsed buildings, empty streets, and fishing boats washed inland during the tsunami dot the landscape. Google's Street View camera also captured interactive panoramic scenes of the ghost town, so people can zoom in to study the details. All told, Google captured thousands of miles of Street View imagery in this desolate location.

Namie-machi's Street View imagery is available on Google Maps and is also stored on a Web site Google created called Memories for the Future, which is dedicated to remembering the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima nuclear disaster.

"Ever since the March disaster, the rest of the world has been moving forward, and many places in Japan have started recovering. But in Namie-machi time stands still," Baba wrote. "With the lingering nuclear hazard, we have only been able to do cursory work for two whole years. We would greatly appreciate it if you viewed this Street View imagery to understand the current state of Namie-machi and the tremendous gravity of the situation."

Google Maps has virtually brought armchair travelers to some of the most difficult places to reach on Earth. Earlier this month, the Web giant released a way to visit the mammoth peaks of Mount Everest, Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, and Mount Elbrus. And, over the past year, it has explored a remote region of Brazil's Amazon, swam underwater in Australia's Great Barrier Reef, and ventured out to hard-to-reach areas near the South Pole and the North Pole.