Fukushima
Photo: A screenshot from the National Geographic documentary 'Returning to Fukushima'

Watch: 3 documentaries on the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami

These films remember the victims and show how Fukushima and other prefectures have recovered over the last decade

By Emma Steen
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It has been ten years since a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck in the ocean just off Fukushima prefecture, triggering both a nuclear meltdown and 15-metre tsunami that devastated over 400 miles of coastline. But even after a decade, Japan is still haunted by the aftermath of a disaster that ravaged multiple prefectures and destroyed thousands of lives. 

It’s hard to fathom all different elements of the disaster, let alone to understand what exactly happened at the nuclear power plant, but a handful of documentaries produced since the tragedy shed some light on what went down on March 11 2011 – and show how Fukushima and the surrounding prefectures have recovered since. Here are three videos you can watch online to learn more about the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and the meltdown that followed.

National Geographic: Returning to Fukushima

This brief yet informative short piece produced by National Geographic in 2019 explores the efforts local governments are making to convince young people to move to the areas affected by the disaster. In Naraha, a town on the northeastern corner of Fukushima, officials have rebuilt a school for 300, but only 68 pupils attend. Meanwhile, local residents share what it’s like to raise a family in a place that was previously deserted due to fears of radioactivity. 

Despite the government insisting that Fukushima’s border towns are stable enough to relocate to, cleanup and restoration pose a significant challenge. Mariana van Zeller weighs the viability of resettling in Fukushima against former residents’ concerns about safety and stigma.

Return to Fukushima with Miles O’Brien

Many people know about the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which suffered irreparable damage in the earthquake and subsequent tsunami, but few know about the nuclear plant’s sister site, Fukushima Daini, which escaped its own nuclear accident by a narrow margin.

In this investigation led by PBS science correspondent Miles O’Brien, you’re given a tour of the sister site three years after the 2011 disaster, before hearing from both sides in the debate about whether Fukushima has a future in nuclear power.

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Fukushima: A Nuclear Story

The radiation levels around the affected areas of Fukushima made it highly difficult for reporters and camera crews to get to the disaster zone  after the tsunami, but Italian journalist Pio d’Emilia was one of the first foreign reporters able to access the scene in 2011. 

Over the course of four years between 2011 and 2015, d’Emilia used his camera to capture 300 hours of footage including the immediate aftermath of the disaster. The documentary’s director, Matteio Gagliardi, later combined d’Emilia’s footage with other elements of the film to tell this powerful story. More than a retelling of the events of the earthquake and tsunami, the documentary also confronts the ethical dilemmas behind the construction and management of the nuclear power plants as well as the uncertainty many people throughout Japan have felt about nuclear power in the months and even years following the incident. 

Available on Amazon Prime Video (regional restrictions may apply).

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