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Inside the Fukushima nuclear exclusion zone

Two journalists head into the exclusion zone surrounding Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Here's what they saw.

The duo went as far as a mile from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
Video screenshot by Tim Hornyak/CNET

TOKYO--As Japan's government prepares regulations to punish those who violate the 20km (12.4 mile) exclusion zone around the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, a Japanese journalist drove into the area and recorded scenes of desolation.

Armed with only filtration masks, a Geiger counter, and dosimeter, Tetsuo Jimbo of the Web site Videonews and a colleague drove into the voluntary evacuation zone at 30 km (18.6 miles) from the plant and began recording.

As the 12-minute annotated video shows, the pair come across roads shattered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami damage in coastal towns that seem totally abandoned save for stray dogs and cattle.

The men mostly speak about how to negotiate roads or remark on what they see along the way.

They note there's no checkpoint at the 20 km mark. When they reach 17 km (10.5 miles) from the plant, the radiation level hits 2.5 microsieverts per hour, triggering the Gieger counter alarm.

The radiation level rises as the Japanese car navigation system guides the duo closer to the nuclear plant. Greenpeace has reported high levels of radiation outside the evacuation zone from its own testing.

Along the wreckage-strewn coast near the Daiichi and Daini Fukushima plants, they hear birdsong while filming a crushed police car in the rubble of the disaster. It's an ironic note amid the devastation.

At one mile from the Daiichi plant, the dosimeter records radiation of 112 microsieverts per hour, which is significantly higher than average background radiation. "This looks a little dangerous," one of the men says before they leave the area.

Workers at the plant, which was hit by 50-foot tsunami waves, are trying to move 60,000 tons of highly radioactive water into storage tanks so that efforts to restore the cooling functions can proceed. The government and operator Tokyo Electric Power Company have girded themselves for a long fight.

Meanwhile, 140 miles to the south in Tokyo, some 17,500 people demonstrated against nuclear plants at two rallies on Sunday, calling for Chubu Electric Power Company to halt operations at the Hamaoka nuclear plant in Shizuoka Prefecture south of the capital.

Some believe the Hamaoka plant sits on the epicenter of a projected earthquake that could devastate central Japan. The Tokai earthquake has a history of occurring every 100 to 150 years.

If Fukushima is any indication, the mix of nuclear power and frequent natural disasters here could turn more communities in Japan into ghost towns.