Dylan Pukall from Mudjimba went into the Fukushima exclusion zone in Japan to get some photographs of the adandoned area. Photo: Iain Curry / Sunshine Coast Daily
Dylan Pukall from Mudjimba went into the Fukushima exclusion zone in Japan to get some photographs of the adandoned area. Photo: Iain Curry / Sunshine Coast Daily Iain Curry

His secret trip to a nuclear waste land

AS DYLAN Pukall stood in the exclusion zone around the Fukushima nuclear reactor, he couldn't help but wonder what he had gotten himself into.

Thousands of kilometres from his Mudjimba home, he was very much alone in what could only be described as a nuclear wasteland.

Other than the occasional bird, there was no sign of life.

Not a barking dog, not a vehicle and most definitely not another human being.

Strangely, more than two years after the abandonment of the area, the traffic lights still operate on deserted intersections.

"It was so silent that the birds seemed too loud," the 20-year-old recalled after returning to the Coast.

"It was spooky - eerie. The place was deserted, like someone had told every one to grab the most important things they could carry and get out as fast as they could."

Which was exactly what happened after an earthquake and tsunami devastated the region in March 2011.

Damage caused by the tsunami caused a nuclear meltdown that shocked the world and released radioactive material into the air and nearby ocean.

An estimated 19,000 people were killed and 300,000 displaced. Today, the exclusion zone is a nuclear wasteland that stretches 30km from the reactor.

It is a zone where few would want to visit and even fewer are allowed.

Dylan said he sneaked into the area last month because he wanted to see it for himself and take photographs that would highlight the nuclear danger the planet faced.

He was inspired by a documentary on the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl - a crisis he admitted he had never heard about until then.

That led him to investigate Fukushima and within weeks he had borrowed money from his parents and was on a plane to Tokyo - his first overseas trip alone.

"My family was a bit scared but they supported what I wanted to do," the eldest of three children said.

"The more I read about Fukushima, the more I realised everyone knew about the tsunami and the earthquake and they sort of knew about the nuclear explosion but then they had forgotten about it. People didn't realise just how dangerous the situation was over there and how quickly it could still all go wrong."

After landing in Tokyo, he hired a car and drove four hours to a checkpoint at the edge of the exclusion zone, where security guards refused to allow him past.

"They asked me why I wanted to go into the exclusion zone and I said 'business'," he said.

"They all said, 'ohh nooo no! no one here!' and gave me a map and pointed to where I was and where I was headed!

"They said 'no, no, no, no go! Please turn around and go back to Tokyo now!'"

Undaunted, he turned around and drove another four hours across country - through mountains and tiny country towns - to Fukushima city.

After a night at a hotel in Namie, on the edge of the exclusion zone, he set off before dawn into a scene of utter desolation.

"All along the side of the roads leading into Namie was scrap and debris left from the tsunami. They literally have not cleaned up anything," Dylan said.

"There were whole fields that used to be filled with rice crops - now they are filled with cars, shipping containers and excavators.

"On the other side of the road at one point leading into Namie were entire streets of houses torn apart by the tsunami.

"There was stuff everywhere. It was disturbing to say the least.

"Entering Namie there were signs everywhere in Japanese. I guess they said things like 'do not enter'."

Dylan passed through deserted checkpoints, stopping regularly to take photos.

"At that point every single building and square inch of ground was abandoned and had been left untouched for over two years," he said.

"It was very eerie and quite scary.

"I drove to the centre of town and parked my car next to one of the blocked-off streets.

"The only thing that works in the exclusion zone are the traffic lights.

"By that time it was around 6am and I started walking down one of the main streets, stopping to take photographs - a motorcycle shop full of brand new bikes left to rot, clothing stores with shoes and shirt racks still sitting outside like they had been open the whole time.

"There was a boat sitting on the side of the main road next to a bowling alley, where it had obviously been washed by the tsunami.

"I took a photo through someone's window and everything was left as though they had just gone to work for the day. The bed was there, the fridge, a table with bills and all sorts of normal household things on it, never to be returned to.

"Cars, trucks, taxis, scooters and bikes still stood where their owners had left them."

Dylan admitted there were times he wanted to get back in his car and drive away.

"The isolation, the quiet and the desolation was very disturbing," he said.

"It made me want to get out, but I had committed to what I was doing.

"That was why I had gone to Japan and I couldn't leave until it was done."

He said he had no regrets and no fears the visit might have affected his health.

"I've researched it and all the scientists say a few hours in there won't do anything," he said. "It's about the same as standing in front of a microwave, but you can't live there."

Dylan hopes his photographs will open people's eyes and he plans to mount an exhibition early in the new year. In the meantime, he is starting by educating his friends.

"I think they are pretty proud of what I did," he said.

"They are interested in it and I am pretty sure they are learning something.

"I hope everyone will."

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