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Google Maps goes "underground" in Japan's radioactive zone

Posting in Cities

This is not a place you'd want to hang around for too long

Google is producing "underground" street maps of Japan's nuclear exclusion zone.

The radiation levels near the Fukushima site are spiking to record levels, but that hasn't stopped Google's StreetView from entering one area of the ‘forbidden' zone. The images are from 17 cities within Japan's Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, which were heavily damaged by the 2011 tsunami, Memeburn reported yesterday.

That includes the town of Namie-machi, which is now deemed a radiation hazard. Google has also catalogued the interiors of over 70 flood-damaged buildings in the region. The panoramic images are an update to ones taken shortly after the disaster. Google says that it has a higher social purpose.

"Our digital archiving project aims not only to make a record of the disaster's wreckage, but also to illustrate the process of Japan's recovery. Towards that goal, we've driven our Street View cars throughout the Tohoku region again over the past months. Today we are updating the Street View imagery for 17 cities within the Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures for the first time since we published the first panoramas back in 2011," Google's group product manager, Kei Kawai, wrote on the team's blog.

"By releasing this new imagery on Google Maps, we hope people in Japan and from all around the world can virtually explore what these towns currently look like and better understand how local governments are working on rebuilding residents' homes and lives," Kawai continued.

Google is not the first non-governmental entity to enter the exclusion zone. Organizations including Animal Friends Niigata and HEART Tokushima have been working in partnership with Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support to save over 700 animals the Great East Japan Earthquake. Another rescue effort is planned for next week.

Volunteers brave arrest and elevated levels of radiation around Fukushima, donning protective gear and carry Geiger counters. They must limit the time spent on rescue missions and dodge security to enter "no-go" exclusion zones.

Several media outlets, including TIME have also documented cities within the exclusion zone.

(image credit: Google Maps, David Worthington)

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— By on September 6, 2013, 9:54 AM PST

David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure