The World Bank says it could cost as much as $235 billion and take Japan five years to rebuild from the catastrophic earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis that hit the island nation on March 11.
In a report released March 21, the World Bank said the disaster has caused "unprecedented" damage to Japan's housing and infrastructure.
The report added that Japan's economic growth will likely fall in the first half of this year, but that growth will increase as reconstruction accelerates in subsequent quarters.
In another development, Japan's National Police Agency says it fears that the toll from the earthquake and tsunami will exceed 18,000 deaths.
Police say that currently, more than 8,600 people have been confirmed killed, while more than 12,800 remain listed as missing.
Engineers, meanwhile, have been continuing work to contain the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima plant in northeastern Japan, where overheated reactors have led to radiation leaks and triggered concerns about the contamination of food and water.
Officials have reported some recent success in cooling down the four most seriously damaged reactors at the site. But it remains unclear whether engineers will be able to restart the cooling pumps needed to stabilize the complex.
Japanese health officials have reported the discovery of excess radioactive elements in some vegetables, milk and water.
In all cases, however, the government has said the radiation levels appear too small to pose an immediate health risk.
How Bad Is It?
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in the Japanese capital on March 20 to criticize their government for failing to prevent a crisis at the Fukushima plant after the quake hit.
One of the protest organizers, Takashi Misumi, said authorities have failed to acknowledge the true scope of the disaster and called for Japan to abandon its nuclear energy program immediately.
"The government has no intention of stopping its nuclear operations. It says this will never happen again," Misumi told Reuters. "I want to appeal to the world and say that this is very dangerous."
Japan's race to avert a full-scale meltdown at the Fukushima plant has sparked fresh concerns worldwide about the safety of nuclear power.
Those fears are now likely to rise even higher, as radiation contamination has been detected in vegetables, dust, and water near the nuclear zone.
Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano, told a press conference that traces of radiation had been detected in two prefectures near the Fukushima plant.
Edano said the government is considering whether to ban the sale of food items, like spinach and milk, produced in the region.
"We will continue investigating the situation and analyzing what research needs to be done. We will decide by tomorrow [March 21] whether we need to impose restrictions on consumption in a specific region or whether we need to restrict the output of food products."
The news has come to a blow to the region's farmers, who stand to lose their entire harvest.
Much In Doubt
The Japanese government has been careful not to portray the power restoration at the Fukushima plan as a certain success.
It took 300 engineers braving high radiation levels to connect power to the plant's No. 1 and No. 2 reactors, which will aid attempts to cool down the reactor and limit the leak of radiation. The facility contains six reactors, three of which were up and running when the country's largest recorded earthquake struck.
Edano said the efforts were "showing some effect" but added that the government "was not in a position to be able to say anything" more about whether a nuclear crisis has been averted.
Both Japanese and foreign visitors have sought to leave Japan in the wake of the deadly earthquake and tsunami, which has caused widespread power outages and required massive rescue and reconstruction operations.
An 80-year-old woman and a teenage boy were rescued from the wreckage of a house in northeastern Japan a full nine days after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake that set off the catastrophe.
An official from the Taiwanese radiation watchdog said the amount of radiation detected on a batch of Japanese fava beans sent on March 18 was well below Taiwan's legal limit and was not harmful to human health. He did not know where in Japan the beans originated.
compiled from news agency reports