New photos of Fukushima nuclear plant's eerie 'exclusion zone'

Welcome news! The Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant is finally ready to accept visitors.

Granted, the visitors must wear contamination suits and take photos through the windows of a bus. And they have to duck in and out of the site like burglars because, like the tens of thousands of people who used to call Okuma, Fukushima, home, this stricken land is not a place you want to hang around in for long.

For the first time since the tsunami waves washed over Fukushima on March 11 (video), Japanese officials have allowed local and international journalists to visit the nuclear plant. It's a work in progress. The site employs about 3,000 workers a day for clean-up duties; in the heavy days after the explosions and meltdown, more than 6,400 workers toiled to contain the disaster.

Reports the Associated Press:

Eight months later, the plant remains a shambles. Mangled trucks, flipped over by the power of the wave, still clutter its access roads. Rubble remains strewn where it fell. Pools of water cover parts of the once immaculate campus....

The group was taken through the center of the facility, a once-neat row of reactor buildings that are now shells of shattered walls and steel frames. Journalists were then briefed inside the plant's emergency operations center, a spacious, bunker-like structure where it is safe to remove the heavy protective gear required outdoors....

Evidence of the tremendous man-hours already invested in the cleanup is piling up in the workers' staging area, on the edge of the 12-mile (20-kilometer) no-go zone around the plant. More than 480,000 sets of used protective gear — which can be worn only once — lie in crates or plastic bags at the complex, which before the tsunami was a training facility for national-level soccer teams.

Here's the AP's full account of what is possibly the worst way to spend a weekend in history. Note that it will take at least three decades to safely turn this nuclear plant off. That is an optimistic estimate, and the AP covers several reasons why the world should not expect this catastrophe to disappear according to Japan's timetable.

Now for some photos from Saturday's Curie-ific excursion. Above, note the ruination of the Unit 4 reactor building. It sustained a hydrogen explosion or two. To see this dismal wonder, you have to first get past a checkpoint at the edge of a "contaminated exclusion zone":

AP Photo/David Guttenfelder, Pool

These are what Fukushima streets look like nowadays. You can almost hear the ghosts of crickets chirping:

AP Photo/David Guttenfelder, Pool

Pipes, and dreams, were crushed:

AP Photo/Ikuro Aiba, Pool

And clothing is one-use only. These are piles of used protective wear that workers wore inside the exclusion zone, waiting for safe destruction in a soccer field that serves as the workers' HQ:

AP Photo/David Guttenfelder, Pool

For more photos, Cryptome has posted the whole set from the media trip.