2024年3月31日日曜日

13 YEARS SINCE QUAKE - TSUNAMI TRIGGERED NUCLEAR DISASTER - JAPAN

13 YEARS SINCE QUAKE - TSUNAMI TRIGGERED NUCLEAR DISASTER - JAPAN

@Jackie San

Japan on Monday marked 13 years since a massive earthquake and tsunami devastated its northeastern region and triggered one of the world's worst nuclear accidents, with the government vowing to keep the memory of it alive to better respond to current and future disasters.


While recovery has progressed in areas hit by the magnitude-9.0 quake and ensuing tsunami, which claimed the lives of 15,900 people, around 29,000 people are still displaced with cleanup efforts at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant expected to span decades.


In a memorial ceremony held in Fukushima, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he will not let the lessons of the March 11 disaster "fade away" in the quake-prone nation, which most recently saw a powerful temblor shake Ishikawa Prefecture in central Japan on New Year's Day.


"We firmly pledge to create a nation resilient to disasters," he said, vowing to make use of past experiences to deal with calamities including the Jan. 1 quake that also triggered a major tsunami warning.


With the latest quake that hit areas on the Sea of Japan coast killing over 200 people, residents in northeastern Japan expressed sympathy for those affected, recalling their own experiences 13 years ago.


Rio Otomo, a 19-year-old university student, whose house in Rikuzentakata in Iwate Prefecture completely collapsed in the tsunami, said those who lost family and homes in the Jan. 1 quake may not yet be able to see a way forward.


"I believe now is the most difficult time, but a good future will surely come as long as they help each other," Otomo said.


At 2:46 p.m., the exact time the massive quake took place on March 11, 2011, a moment of silence was observed across the severely affected prefectures of Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima to pray for those who lost their lives.


The central government stopped hosting memorial services in Tokyo in 2022, with municipalities in the regions now holding annual events on a smaller scale, including the one Kishida attended.


The latest figures from the National Police Agency put the death toll from the 2011 disaster at 15,900 people as of the end of February, while 2,520 people were still unaccounted for.


While DNA tests of human remains found since last March identified three people, they were not added to the number of deaths because only body parts were discovered. The vast majority of deaths and missing person cases are in the three prefectures.


According to the Reconstruction Agency, as of December last year, deaths related to the disaster, such as from illness or stress-induced suicide, stood at 3,802.


In Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, its mayor announced earlier this month that a municipal building where 43 people lost their lives in the tsunami will be preserved after a years-long debate on whether to demolish it.


Visiting the building early in the morning, Shinichi Tada, a 54-year-old junior high school teacher who lost a relative there, said the town has "drastically" changed over the 13-year period.


"The town building will teach children who have no memories of the disaster what happened at that time," said Tada.


While efforts to pass down the memories of the disaster to the younger generation continue, the cleanup work at the Fukushima Daiichi plant is an ongoing issue that has stirred controversy in and outside the country.


Since August last year, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. has released treated radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean despite opposition from neighboring countries such as China and concerns among the local fishing industry.


The Japanese government and TEPCO argue that the disposal of the wastewater is a crucial step toward decommissioning the Fukushima plant, which suffered reactor core meltdowns in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami. The water release is expected to last for about 30 years.


Among local fishermen, Takahiro Ohira, 50, said at a port in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, "We will just keep fishing steadily even if treated water is released or reputational damage occurs again."


A no-go zone continues to be in place near the nuclear plant itself, and decommissioning work is scheduled to continue until sometime between 2041 and 2051.


While the number of displaced people has dropped from a peak of 470,000 as a result of infrastructure redevelopment, areas in seven municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture are still designated as off-limits due to radiation.


Consultations received by mental health centers established in the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima for those affected by the triple disaster totaled 17,302 in fiscal 2021, indicating continued demand for the service despite decreasing from 23,914 in fiscal 2012.

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