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Beyond the police roadblocks that mark the no-go zone around Japan’s wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant, six-foot tall weeds invade rice paddies and vines gone wild strangle road signs along empty streets.
Takako Harada, 80, returned to an evacuated area of Iitate village to retrieve her car. Beside her house is an empty cattle pen, the 100 cows slaughtered on government order after radiation from the March 11 atomic disaster saturated the area, forcing 160,000 people to move away and leaving some places uninhabitable for two decades or more.
“Older folks want to return, but the young worry about radiation,” said Harada, whose family ran the farm for 40 years. “I want to farm, but will we be able to sell anything?”
What’s emerging in Japan six months since the nuclear meltdown at the Tokyo Electric Power Co. plant is a radioactive zone bigger than that left by the 1945 atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While nature reclaims the 20 kilometer (12 mile) no-go zone, Fukushima’s $3.2 billion-a-year farm industry is being devastated and tourists that hiked the prefecture’s mountains and surfed off its beaches have all but vanished.
The March earthquake and tsunami that caused the nuclear crisis and left almost 20,000 people dead or missing may cost 17 trillion yen ($223 billion), hindering recovery of the world’s third-largest economy from two decades of stagnation.