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Fukushima's dead zone

world Updated: Nov 21, 2011 01:19 IST

Eight months ago, people left this place in haste. Families raced from their homes without closing the front doors. They left half-finished wine bottles on their kitchen tables and sneakers in their foyers. They jumped in their cars without taking pets and left cows hitched to milking stanchions.

Now the land stands empty, frozen in time, virtually untouched since the March 11 disaster that created a wasteland in the 12-mile circle of farmland that surrounds the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Some 78,000 people lived here; only a handful have been permitted to return. Cobwebs spread across storefronts. Mushrooms sprout from living-room floors. Weeds swallow train tracks. A few roads, shaken by the earthquake, are cantilevered like rice paddies. Near the coastline, boats borne inland by the tsunami still litter main roads.

Only the animals were left behind, and their picture is not pretty. Starving pigs have eaten their own. Cats and dogs scavenge for food. On one farm, the Tochimotos’, the skulls of 20 cows dangle from their milking tethers.

Several thousand Fukushima workers, draped in white protective gear, pass daily through the front gates of the plant, site of the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.

But beyond the plant, for at least 12 miles in any direction, the Japanese government maintains a no-entry zone, with teams of policemen sealing off all roads going in.

Nobody is allowed to live there - a condition that could continue for decades.

If the dormant Chernobyl plant in Ukraine provides any guide, the land surrounding the Fukushima facility will one day grow wild, with villages eventually bulldozed and buried. Maybe decades from now, Japan will tailor the area to adventure-seeking tourists. For now, the land surrounding the plant still preserves the history of those who were told to abandon it.

The area is dangerous over long periods, with many spots even 10 miles away from the plant showing radiation levels exceeding those at the facility's main gate. But spend a full day driving through the no-entry zone and the risks are minimal.

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