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Zone of alienation

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Nearly a year after the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster that struck Japan, a 20-km (12-mi) radius exclusion zone remains in place around the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Residents were evacuated quickly, leaving behind many things, including pets and livestock. Members of United Kennel Club Japan recently ventured into the zone to rescue abandoned dogs and cats that have been fending for themselves for months. The Japanese government recently said it would draw up new evacuation zones by the end of April, and that areas where annual radiation levels are currently higher than 50 millisieverts will not be deemed suitable for living for at least five years. Below are recent images from inside Japan's exclusion zone. The last six images are interactive: starting with number 29 click them to view a fading before/after comparison of Google Streetview images. [34 photos]

Members of United Kennel Club Japan (UKC Japan) care for pets which were rescued from inside the exclusion zone around the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, at the group's pet shelter in Samukawa town, Kanagawa prefecture, on January 25, 2012. Dogs and cats that were abandoned in the Fukushima exclusion zone after last year's nuclear crisis have had to survive high radiation and a lack of food, and they are now struggling with the region's freezing winter weather. A 9.0-magnitude earthquake and massive tsunami on March 11 triggered the world's worst nuclear accident in 25 years and forced residents around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to flee, with many of them having to leave behind their pets. (Reuters/Issei Kato)

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In June, National Geographic sent AP photographer David Guttenfelder into the exclusion zone around the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station, which was badly damaged in the earthquake and tsunami earlier this year. He captured images of communities that had become ghost towns, with pets and farm animals roaming the streets. Later, in November, Guttenfelder returned to photograph the crippled reactor facility itself as members of the media were allowed inside for the first time since the triple disaster last March. In some places, the reactor buildings appear to be little more than heaps of twisted metal and crumbling concrete. Tens of thousands of area residents remain displaced, with little indication of when, or if, they may ever return to their homes. Collected here are some images from these trips -- the first six are from the December 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine, now on newsstands, and more photos can be seen at the National Geographic website. [20 photos]

After the disasters of March 11, tens of thousands were ordered to leave their homes in the vicinity of the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station, some of their footprints now frozen in the mud. (© David Guttenfelder /National Geographic)

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