Ian Thomas Ash, originally from New York, is a freelance documentary filmmaker who has lived in Japan for 10 years. When the magnitude-9.0 earthquake hit off the coast of northeastern Japan on March 11, Ian felt its effects in the nation’s capital, Tokyo. The impact of the quake, tsunami and the ongoing threat of radioactive fallout from the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant 150 miles away is taking its toll.

In a recent guest article for Discovery News, Ian documented the impact the ongoing crisis was having on the populace of the nation’s capital. He also wrote about what he saw during a trip to the city of Ishinomaki, one of the many cities hit hard by the tsunami. Last month, Ian documented the journey made by a group of volunteers led by three brothers who travel to tsunami-devastated Ishinomaki City. He also interviewed ENS Margaret Morton, who was stationed aboard the Navy destroyer USS Mustin when the earthquake struck.

In this special guest article, Ian ventures inside the stricken Fukushima power plant’s 30 kilometer radiation exclusion zone with cameraman Colin O’Neill (Discovery News Space Producer Ian O’Neill‘s father) to document the conditions the local population are currently enduring.

You can see more of Ian’s documentary work by visiting Ian’s YouTube Channel. He also regularly updates his personal blog, Documenting Ian.

WIDE ANGLE: Japan in Crisis


The events of March 11 in Japan are sometimes referred to as the ‘twin disasters’ of the earthquake and tsunami. But for part of the devastated north, a third disaster is an ongoing major threat: radiation from the damaged nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture.

The city of Minamisoma has been split apart into three major sections by the federal government’s assignment of radiation zones. The zone 0-20 kilometers (0-12.4 miles) from the damaged plant has been under mandatory evacuation since the explosion at the nuclear power plant. The zone 20-30 kilometers (12.4-18.6 miles) from the plant is under orders to stay indoors (away from the airborne radiation particles) or to voluntarily evacuate. The parts of the city that lie outside the 30 kilometer mark are free to move about normally.

Last month I learned that not only had some people living in the 20-30 km zone chosen to never evacuate their children, but that some people with children who had evacuated were starting to return home. The city decided to bus the children living in the 20-30 km zone to schools that they would reopen outside of this area.

Children especially are susceptible to an increased risk of thyroid cancer when exposed to radioactive iodine. I couldn’t believe that these children would still be living in this area of abnormally high radiation, so I decided to spend two weeks in this zone documenting the children’s lives and their first day back at school and investigating what the possible long-term effects on their health might be.

I am currently editing the footage into what will be a feature documentary about the children of Minamisoma City. In the meantime, I will be posting a behind-the-scenes look at what happened during my time in the 20-30 km zone.

This is part one.

Camera: Colin O’Neill