Photojournalist Michael Forster Rothbart captures the people who still live near the Chernobyl and Fukushima sites.

Foster Rothbart spent two years on the project and the results are shown in his new book, Would You Stay?

"To the world, Chernobyl and Fukushima seem like dangerous places, but for the people who live there, that danger is simply a fact of life," he says.

Forster Rothbart's book is about the relative normalcy of people's lives near Chernobyl and Fukushima. But he does find a lot of danger and despair.

Would You Stay? is full of people living with cancer. The towns around Chernobyl are depressed and lacking opportunity.

Young people leave if they get the chance. Many of the residents are older, with more invested in the area.

In Fukushima, where the disaster happened more recently, people are living in a state of limbo, not knowing when, or if, they might be able to return to their homes.

Authorities ringed Chernobyl with four zones following the 1986 nuclear disaster. Nearest the site is the Exclusion Zone, where people are not supposed to live at all (though about 400 “self-settlers” do, and there's all kinds of "smuggling, research, farming, tourism, poaching" going on).

Then come three further zones where "evacuation was merely encouraged, not mandatory." They contain 2,293 villages with about 1.6 million inhabitants.

Up to 3,800 people still work at the Chernobyl plant, "not doing very much."

The site, which had three other reactors, stopped producing electricity in 2000. But workers have to stay while decommissioning is completed--a process that could take years due to chronic underfunding.

Forster Rothbart has seen the effects of environmental damage in Bhopal, India, Azerbaijan, and the Canadian Arctic.

What separates Chernobyl and Fukushima, he says, is the insidiousness of the contamination. Nobody quite knows how it will affect them.

"When your home gets washed away, the damage you see is immediate and obvious. When you are hit by radiation, the consequences are never so clear. It’s all a game of probabilities. How much? How dangerous? How soon will it affect me?"

The people living around Chernobyl are still unsure about the risks 27 years after the fact. And now the same thing is happening Fukushima.

2013-10-31

Co.Exist

Stunning Images Of The Thousands Of People Who Still Live Near Chernobyl And Fukushima

Not everyone flees in the wake of a nuclear accident. A new book depicts the people who brave the radiation and stay behind.

"To the world, Chernobyl and Fukushima seem like dangerous places, but for the people who live there, that danger is simply a fact of life," says photojournalist Michael Forster Rothbart, who spent two years cataloging the lives of people living in the shadow of nuclear accidents. These images are the result.

"Most photojournalists distort Chernobyl. They visit briefly, expecting danger and despair, and come away with photos of deformed children and abandoned buildings," Forster Rothbart says in his new book, Would You Stay? "This sensationalist approach obscures more complex stories about how displaced communities adapt and survive."

Forster Rothbart's book is about the relative normalcy of people's lives near Chernobyl and Fukushima. But he does find a lot of danger and despair, of course. Would You Stay? is full of people living with cancer. The towns around Chernobyl are depressed, and lacking opportunity. Young people leave if they get the chance. Many of the residents are older, with more invested in the area. In Fukushima, where the disaster happened more recently, people are living in a state of limbo, not knowing when, or if, they might be able to return to their homes.

Authorities ringed Chernobyl with four zones following the 1986 nuclear disaster. Nearest the site is the Exclusion Zone, where people are not supposed to live at all (though about 400 "self-settlers" do, and there's all kinds of "smuggling, research, farming, tourism, poaching" going on, Forster Rothbart says). Then come three further zones where "evacuation was merely encouraged, not mandatory." They contain 2,293 villages with about 1.6 million inhabitants.

Up to 3,800 people still work at the Chernobyl plant, "not doing very much." The site, which had three other reactors, stopped producing electricity in 2000. But workers have to stay while decommissioning is completed—a process that could take years due to chronic under-funding.

Forster Rothbart has seen the effects of environmental damage in Bhopal, India, Azerbaijan, and the Canadian Arctic. What separates Chernobyl and Fukushima, he says, is the insidiousness of the contamination. Nobody quite knows how it will affect them:

"When your home gets washed away, the damage you see is immediate and obvious," he says. "When you are hit by radiation, the consequences are never so clear. It’s all a game of probabilities. How much? How dangerous? How soon will it affect me?"

The people living around Chernobyl are still unsure about the risks 27 years after the fact. And now the same thing is happening Fukushima, though residents have access to daily radiation reports:

Says Forster Rothbart: "What I saw in Fukushima is that many evacuees are living in a state of limbo, still staying in temporary housing, waiting to learn if they’ll be able to return home, waiting for more answers that never seem to come."

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11 Comments

  • Plinkleton

    Once you get cancer it can never be traced with any certainty to the thing that caused it. So all these corporations like GE and Tepco can just shrug and walk away there

  • Robert Dominic Wilkey

    There's a REALLY easy way to tell if you're in danger.

    It's called a Geiger Counter, and you can buy one on Amazon.

  • Ormond Otvos

    First you have to know what the numbers mean. You speak milliseivert?

  • MajorDiarrhea

    Fukushima is a non-disaster. A little context: 1 sieverts equals a 5.5% chance of getting cancer, and the radiation in the area is being measured in milisieverts, a 0.0055% chance of getting cancer. The highest estimated dose for Fukushima evacuees is 68 mSv = 0.374% of developing cancer.

  • Ormond Otvos

    Scare stories again. Never any figures on cancer incidence. Low dose radiation encourages DNA repair, as the science indicates.

    These scare stories will kill millions, from the effects of replacement fossil fuel plants, to global warming weather catastrophes.

    Thanks, click whores.

  • Rhetorikol

    So you're encouraging people to move in so they can magically become superhuman?

  • MrEFQ

    Google "Radiation hormesis"

    "Radiation hormesis (also called radiation homeostasis) is the hypothesis that low doses of ionizing radiation (within the region of and just above natural background levels) are beneficial, stimulating the activation of repair mechanisms that protect against disease, that are not activated in absence of ionizing radiation. The reserve repair mechanisms are hypothesized to be sufficiently effective when stimulated as to not only cancel the detrimental effects of ionizing radiation but also inhibit disease not related to radiation exposure (see hormesis). This counter-intuitive hypothesis has captured the attention of scientists and public alike in recent years."

  • Rhetorikol

    It was hard to follow the information online. So as long as it's within certain limits, the hypothesis states that it repairs the effects of radiation or improves the immune system? Does this apply globally or just within radioactive regions? It's interesting, though I don't think we fully understand the intensity or affects of background radiation from electronics, microwaves, and other sources.

  • Ormond Otvos

    Are you really dumb enough to imply that DNA repair creates superbeings? I'm saying the danger is greatly exaggerated in comparison to natural radiation sources. Concrete, granite, bananas. Read up, grasshopper.