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The Broken Lives of Fukushima

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More than two and a half years have passed since the massive 2011 earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan, wrecking the Fukushima nuclear plant and claiming nearly 16,000 lives. When it became clear that nuclear contamination was widespread, the government evacuated about 160,000 people living near the plant and established a 20-km compulsory exclusion zone, which remains in place today. Today, Tokyo Electric Power Company is still struggling to contain contaminated water at the destroyed plant. Former residents are allowed to return up to once a month, but they're forbidden to stay overnight. Reuters photographer Damir Sagolj recently joined one of these trips, capturing images of a haunting landscape and lives torn apart by disaster. [40 photos]

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A security officer blocks the road from Route 6 into the the exclusion zone near the tsunami-crippled Daiichi nuclear power plant near Tomioka in Fukushima prefecture, Japan, on September 13, 2013. Former residents of evacuated towns can visit their homes inside the exclusion zone once a month, with special permissions. A total of 160,000 people were ordered to leave their homes around Daiichi plant after the government announced the evacuation following the nuclear disaster in March of 2011. Picture taken September 13, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj)
A security officer blocks the road from Route 6 into the the exclusion zone near the tsunami-crippled Daiichi nuclear power plant near Tomioka in Fukushima prefecture, Japan, on September 13, 2013. Former residents of evacuated towns can visit their homes inside the exclusion zone once a month, with special permissions. A total of 160,000 people were ordered to leave their homes around Daiichi plant after the government announced the evacuation following the nuclear disaster in March of 2011. Picture taken September 13, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj)
Street lamps light the street in the empty town of Namie in Fukushima prefecture, on September 23, 2013. Namie was formerly home to more than 20,000 residents. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
Waves break on barriers as a typhoon hits the area near Iwaki town, south of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, on September 16, 2013. Almost all the beaches in Fukushima prefectures remain closed since the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. In July this year, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), a company that runs the crippled Daiichi plant reversed months of denials and admitted that hundreds of tons of groundwater that has mixed with radioactive material may be flowing out to the sea every day. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
A fishing boat sits in a field, viewed from inside an abandoned house in the tsunami-destroyed coastal area of the evacuated town of Namie, only 6 kilometers from the crippled Daiichi power plant, on September 23, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
A swimming pool of a primary school in the tsunami-destroyed coastal area of the town of Namie, on September 22, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
With cranes and chimneys of the crippled Daiichi nuclear power plant in the background, a beach littered with barriers, wrecked cars and other debris in the coastal area of Namie, on September 23, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
Toppled tsunami barriers, and a rusting wrecked car near Namie town, on September 23, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
A small monument to victims sits in front of an abandoned house near the coastline of of Namie, on September 22, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
A damaged statue of Buddha is left in the grass in the exclusion zone near Minamisoma in Fukushima prefecture, on September 21, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
The level of radiation is shown near the abandoned civic center of the town of Namie, on September 15, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
Inside a damaged primary school near the coast of Namie town, on September 22, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
Nature begins to reclaim the streets of the evacuated town of Futaba in Fukushima prefecture, on September 22, 2013. Decades ago, the citizens of Japan's Futaba town took such pride in hosting part of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex that they built a sign over a promenade proclaiming that atomic power made their town prosperous. Now, they are scattered around Japan with no clear sign of when they might return to their homes. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
A red light, in front of damaged house in the evacuated town of Namie, on September 23, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
A woman leans against the damaged grave of her relative as she visits the cemetery in the tsunami-destroyed coastal area of Namie town, on September 23, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
A Buddhist monk wears a Geiger counter as he leads a small funeral ceremony for Yotsuno Kanno, who died as an evacuee, at a cemetery in the evacuated town of Minamitsushima inside the exclusion zone, on September 21, 2013. Kanno, who was evacuated after the disaster at Daiichi plant in 2011 with rest of people from Minamitsushima, died in temporary accommodation in May this year two weeks short of her 100th birthday. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
A vending machine, brought inland by the tsunami, in an abandoned rice field inside the exclusion zone near Minamisoma in Fukushima prefecture, on September 21, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
A worker from Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the company that runs the tsunami-crippled Daiichi nuclear plant, cuts dense vegetation that grows wild in the abandoned town of Namie, on September 13, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
A twisted clock, spiderwebs and debris inside a damaged primary school in the town of Namie, on September 23, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
Keigo Sakamoto, 58, holds Atom, one of his 21 dogs and over 500 animals he keeps at his home in the exclusion zone near Naraha, on September 17, 2013. Sakamoto, a former caregiver and farmer who refused to leave the exclusion zone around the crippled Daiichi nuclear power plant decided to name his dog Atom because it was born just before the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster. With donations and support from outside Fukushima, Sakamoto lives with his animals of which many were abandoned by previous owners as they left the exclusion zone. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
Firefighters from Kyoto pay respect to victims as they visit the coastal area of the evacuated town of Namie, on September 15, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
Wild flowers and other vegetation grow over a train line in the empty town of Namie, on September 14, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
Dense vegetation is seen from inside an abandoned house in the tsunami-destroyed coastal area of Namie, on September 15, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
Mieko Okubo, 59, poses with a portrait of her father-in-law Fumio Okubo next to his jacket in his room where he committed suicide in the evacuated town of Iitate, on September 18, 2013. Mieko, who lives outside the exclusion zone, comes back every other day to feed Fumio's dog and clean the house. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
A jacket belonging to Fumio Okubo hangs in the room where he committed suicide in the evacuated town of Iitate, on September 18, 2013. Fumio, a 102 year old farmer, hanged himself in the house he lived in all his life after authorities ordered evacuation from the area following the nuclear disaster at the tsunami-crippled Daiichi power plant. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
Mieko Okubo, 59, explains how her father-in-law Fumio Okubo committed suicide in the room where he did it, on September 18, 2013. She said Fumio committed suicide because he just could not stand to end his life somewhere else. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
Light and power lines from the tsunami-crippled Daiichi nuclear power plant, as seen from Route 6 near the town of Okuma in Fukushima prefecture, on September 15, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
A table is still set for customers at a restaurant in the abandoned town of Namie, on September 14, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
The decaying control panel of a public address system, inside damaged primary school in Namie, on September 22, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
Messages of support are written on a blackboard in a science class in a primary schoolin Namie, on September 22, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
A piano stands inside an abandoned house in Namie, on September 15, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
A road through a field, viewed from inside an abandoned house in the coastal area of Namie, on September 15, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
Copies of Fukushima Minpo newspapers with headlines "M(magnitude) 8.8, largest in the country", dated a day after the devastating 2011 earthquake, sit stacked inside an office in the evacuated town of Namie, on September 14, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
Wild vegetation grows inside destroyed greenhouses at an abandoned farm at the edge of the exclusion zone at the coastal area near Minamisoma, on September 21, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
A dead cat lies among debris in a damaged house in the evacuated town of Futaba, on September 22, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
Rubber gloves, left outside a house in the evacuated town of Namie, on September 13, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
Plastic bags, containing radiated soil, leaves and debris from a decontamination operation, sit dumped at a tennis court at a sports park in Naraha town, on September 21, 2013. The most ambitious radiation clean-up ever attempted has proved costly, complex and time-consuming since the Japanese government began it more than two years ago in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. It may also fail -- storage is a big problem. Most of the contaminated soil and leaves remain piled up in driveways and empty lots because of fierce opposition from local communities to storing it in one place until the Ministry of Environment secures a central site that could hold it for the longer term. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
People wear face masks as they visit a cemetery in the tsunami-destroyed coastal area of Namie, on September 23, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
An official measures radiation on a car leaving the exclusion zone near the tsunami-crippled Daiichi nuclear power plant, near the town of Tomioka, on September 13, 2013. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
Naoto Matsumura, 53, stands in an empty street in the evacuated town of Tomioka, near the tsunami-crippled Daichi power plant, on September 17, 2013. Despite government orders, Matsumura never left and now lives alone inside of the nuclear exclusion zone with his 50 cows, two cats, a dog, a pony, and two ostriches. He has made it his mission to take care of those animals left behind, even if they no longer can be sold to a market due to their exposure to high levels of radiation. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #
A doctor conducts a thyroid examination on four-year-old Maria Sakamoto, brought by her mother to the office of Iwaki Radiation Citizen Center NPO, in Iwaki town, south of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, on September 18, 2013. The non-profit organization offers free thyroid examination for children from Fukushima area. As the World Health Organization (WHO) says children in Fukushima may have a higher risk of developing thyroid cancer after the Daiichi nuclear disaster, mothers in Fukushima worry that local health authorities are not doing enough. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj) #

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