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Photographer documents emptiness, silence of Japan nuclear crisis

By VBS staff
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Picture perfect: Donald Weber
  • Photographer who documented the Chernobyl disaster goes to Japan
  • Donald Weber gets inside the buffer zone around the damaged Fukushima power plant
  • VBS follows Weber as he explores the "eerily silent" streets and empty homes

Editor's note: The staff at has been intrigued by the journalism of Vice, an independent media company and Web site based in Brooklyn, New York.VBS.TV is Vice's broadband television network. The reports, which are produced solely by Vice, reflect a very transparent approach to journalism, where viewers are taken along on every step of the reporting process. We believe this unique reporting approach is worthy of sharing with our readers.

Brooklyn, New York (VBS.TV) -- Canadian photographer Donald Weber has been documenting the long-term effects of the Chernobyl meltdown since 2005. Originally an architect, Weber came to photography as a freelancer for the international press. After years of drifting through the post-Soviet landscape, shooting from the perspective of the skytalets (a traditional Russian wanderer), Weber has seen the reality of the area with an intimacy few outsiders have been granted.

Following the earthquake and tsunami that struck the northeast coast of Japan in March, Weber watched as the damaged Fukushima power plant quickly threw the country into nuclear panic. What was once seen as an isolated and frankly unrepeatable incident, Chernobyl has found a twin in Fukushima. On April 11, the Fukushima nuclear crisis was upgraded from a 5 to a 7 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale, a level previously only reached at Chernobyl.

In the wake of the compound disasters, Japan has been struggling to contain the nuclear fallout in addition to rebuilding the nation's infrastructure and morale. Residents of the area still cannot access their homes to retrieve personal belongings and Japanese officials have said it will be another 10 months, at the very earliest, that people can begin returning to the area.

See the rest of Picture Perfect: Donald Weber at VBS.TV

VBS traveled with Weber to the empty streets and abandoned homes surrounding Fukushima, where the eerie silence mirrors that at Chernobyl. One of the first photographers inside the zone, Weber set out to document the unfolding nuclear crisis and we set out to document him.

Officials who took part in the Chernobyl cleanup a mere 25 years ago say they are shocked at how slow Japan's response has been. The Japanese government has yet to ask for international help in the cleanup, seemingly determined to solve the problem on its own and so far making many of the same mistakes that were made at Chernobyl.

"With the earthquake and tsunami, it was a catastrophe, but it's more of an engineering catastrophe and we can fix this," Weber says. "But you can't fix what's happening at Fukushima. People just don't understand the whole scope of the matter ..."