Six months after the Tōhoku earthquake triggered the Fukushima disaster, former residents, scientists, and news crews are returning to the nuclear exclusion zone to survey how areas near the plant have fared after being abandoned for months.

In many cases, towns within the zone — which stretches 20 kilometers out — will likely be left uninhabited for decades. But in other areas, the contamination may not be as severe as initially feared. Reports the BBC:

Professor Tomoko Nakanishi of the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Agriculture and Life Sciences believes the contamination is mostly superficial.[...] As a result, she believes that relatively small quantities of radioactive Caesium 134 and 137 will be absorbed into the stalks of rice, and even fewer into their grains.

"Only the surface is contaminated," she told me, "only the first 5cm is highly contaminated."

Professor Takanishi concedes that consumers might not be convinced by these reassurances.

"If you don't want to eat it," she says, "just discard this year's product but next year I'm really optimistic. It will be safe to eat."

Similarly, The Guardian followed returning residents and found that an eerie still had settled over neighborhoods near the plant.

The abrupt evacuation caused the residents to leave their homes and business untended for several months, creating a scene not unlike that of the time-frozen neighborhoods in the Cypriot capital of Nicosia:

The only sound is the chirping of late-summer cicadas and the occasional beep of a Geiger counter. A scrawny black dog wanders into the road, sizes up his human visitors and scampers back into the woods.

And just visible above a line of trees is the roof of one of Fukushima Daiichi's reactor buildings. As our bus drives past, radiation levels inside surge to 61 microsieverts an hour (compared to the typical Japanese average of 0.34 microsieverts).Elsewhere inside the exclusion zone, at least 1,000 cattle are roaming wild after escaping from their farm homesteads, according to local authorities. Most pets, and tens of thousands of cows, pigs and chickens have starved to death.