Take Two for November 4, 2013

Picture This: Documenting life after a nuclear disaster

Michael Forster Rothbart

The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident. Forster Rothbart shot this inside Control Room Four, where technicians lost control of the reactor that eventually expelled radioactive particles into the atmosphere and eventually around the world.

Michael Forster Rothbart

You never know where you’ll find love. .Chernobyl engineer Sergii Bokov works in the liquid radioactive waste treatment facility. He met and first worked with his wife Tanya here.

Michael Forster Rothbart

Nadezhda Budkovskiy rolls her husband Leonid out to the grass in his wheelchair. In 1986, Budkovskiy, then a mailman in Ivankiv, was reassigned to deliver top-secret mail to the military headquarters set up in Chernobyl town. He continued for four years out of a sense of duty, even after the four drivers he worked with all quit. His legs slowly stopped working and by 1996 he was confined to a wheelchair. Currently, Budkovskiy spends summer days sitting on his back stoop, overlooking his wife’s vegetable garden, getting help from his grandson Slava and other family members.

Michael Forster Rothbart

Nadezhda Shevchenko makes lunch with her granddaughter Anya at home in Slavutych, Ukraine. Slavutych is the city built after the 1986 Chernobyl accident to house relocated workers from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

Michael Forster Rothbart

More than 2 years after being evacuated, many refugees still live in places like this: the Wakamiya temporary evacuee housing complex in Koriyama. Surrounded by gravel and concrete, farmers Takaaki and Yumiko Ide told Forster Rothbart that they miss the trees that surround their farm in the mountains near Namie.

Michael Forster Rothbart

Japan Cat Network director Susan Roberts peers into an abandoned house in Shiroishimori village, deep in the Exclusion Zone. Volunteers from the network enter the Zone weekly to feed cats. When residents had to evacuate, they were told not to bring their pets, and most obeyed.

Michael Forster Rothbart

Kiyoko Chiba teaches a summer English class in the rural edge of Koriyama city. She tries not to let her students know her misgivings about staying in Fukushima.

Michael Forster Rothbart

Outside the west entrance of the Fukushima city train station are vast bike parking lots, mostly used by commuters who bike then train to work. Hiroshi Watanabe is a bike lot attendant. His job, ten hours a day, seven days a week, is to keep the bikes neat.


They're two major disasters at nuclear power plants that happened 25 years apart. In 1986, an explosion and fire at the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine sent huge amounts of radioactive material into the air. And in 2011, an earthquake off the eastern coast of Japan led to a series of events culminating in a nuclear meltdown at the power plant in Fukushima.

Check out more photos from Forster Rothbart's series on KPCC's AudioVision.

Both are the only two major nuclear accidents in history, and you'd think the area around the plants would be decimated. But travel around, and you'll see that life has gone on for many Ukrainians and Japanese who decided to stay nearby.

It brings up a question you may have wondered: "If my home, my community were victim to a major disaster, would I leave, too? Would I stay?"

That idea is the subject of a new ebook by photographer Michael Forster Rothbart called, "Would You Stay?" documenting his time with the people living so close to where disasters struck.

"It's so hard for us to think about in this country because we're so transient, moving from year to year," said Forster Rothbart, "But in a place like Ukraine and Japan, people have lived in the same village for generations -- sometimes the same house. How can you even imagine uprooting when your ancestors are there with you?"


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