Japanese Surfers Risk Their Lives to Surf Near the Fukushima Nuclear Zone

Japanese surfers are fearlessly catching waves at the radioactive beach near the site of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Despite warnings of radioactivity in the area, surfers still visit Tairatoyoma beach, once a popular surf spot. While documenting decontamination efforts in the abandoned towns, photographer Eric Lafforgue, sighted the surfers in the water.

Japanese surfer in the contaminated area of Tairatoyoma beach near the Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture – Barcroft Media

“Very few people have returned to this area and I could not have imagined finding them here. According to them, this place is one of the best in Japan to surf as the waves are big and very good to surf.” 

View from a devastated marine house in the highly contaminated area after the daiichi nuclear power plant irradiation and the tsunami, Fukushima prefecture, Futaba, Japan – Barcroft Media

Towns and houses within the red exclusion zone remain abandoned nearly five years after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake triggered a tsunami that led to the Fukushima power plant meltdown. The March 11, 2011 incidents would affect the lives of countless people.

Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant five years after – Barcroft Media

“Houses are almost empty except for a few old people, but people come back every week to take care of their houses. So they are all clean apart from the gardens that are wild as the grass is radioactive so people do not cut it.” 

No entry sign in the contaminated area after the daiichi nuclear power plant irradiation, Fukushima prefecture, Iitate, Japan
No entry sign in the contaminated area in Fukushima prefecture, Iitate, Japan – Barcroft Media

Few people are seen in the towns with the exception of the clean up workers who are covered in protective gear and suits. One worker told Lafforgue that he would never swim there.

Barcroft Media

“According to a man working in the Fukushima power plant, who spoke anonymously, the main risk for him is the water as contaminated water is still sent into the sea.”

Japanese surfer in the contaminated area in front of a authorized entry prohibited sign , Fukushima prefecture, Tairatoyoma beach, Japan
Japanese surfer in the contaminated area by a sign prohibiting entry – Barcroft Media

Lafforgue spoke to the worker after meeting the surfers and so had unknowingly waded in the water to take his photos earlier. Even if the risk is low, he says there is still some sense of uneasiness.

A house destroyed by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima prefecture, Namie, Japan – Barcroft Media

Surfers, wearing nothing but their wetsuits, stay in the water for hours at a time and sometimes swallow it too.

Deserted street in the highly contaminated area after the daiichi nuclear power plant irradiation, Fukushima prefecture, Tomioka, Japan
Deserted street in highly contaminated area in Fukushima prefecture, Tomioka, Japan – Barcroft Media

Meanwhile, men on the beach are continuing their tedious work of removing sand bags labeled as radioactive waste. Lafforgue said:

“They [surfers] say their passion is bigger than the risks and the truth will only be known in 20 years.” 

Tairatoyoma beach, Japan – Barcroft Media

After the level 7 nuclear disaster, approximately 800 square kilometers was sectioned off and labeled as the red zone due to the high levels of radioactive contamination. People were forced to evacuate their homes and given temporary housing to live in.

“I was sad thinking about all the lives broken or those who survived and will never come back. I hope people will understand that time does not erase the pain or consequences of the catastrophe. The gap is huge between what you read in the news and what you feel on the ground.” 

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