By Linda Sieg
TOKYO, March 11 Japan honours the victims of its
worst disaster since World War Two on Monday: the March 11, 2011
earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis that killed almost 19,000
people and stranded 315,000 evacuees, including refugees who
fled radiation from the devastated Fukushima atomic plant.
The 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck northeast Japan at 2:46
p.m., triggering tsunami waves as high as 30 metres (100 feet)
that swept away residents and their homes.
Walls of water 13 metres high smashed into Tokyo Electric
Power Co's (Tepco) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant
north of Tokyo, knocking out its main power supply, destroying
backup generators and crippling the cooling system. Three
reactors melted down in the world's worst atomic accident since
Chernobyl in 1986.
The triple calamaties stunned a nation that had thought
itself prepared for disasters and been taught to believe that
nuclear power, which supplied nearly 30 percent of electricity
at the time, was clean, safe and cheap. A panel of experts
commissioned by parliament to probe the nuclear crisis dubbed it
a man-made disaster resulting from "collusion" among the
government, regulators and the plant operator.
Two years later, rebuilding the northeast - a region already
suffering from a fast-ageing population and stagnant local
industries including farming - is patchy. Almost 300,000 people
still live in temporary housing.
"We are standing at the crossroads of having to decide how
we will live and what actions we should take," said Sakari
Minato, 49, an auto dealer in the town of Yamada in Iwate
prefecture, now living in a house damaged by the tsunami.
"We are at the periphery. In Tokyo, the economy might be
improving as stock prices rise, but it takes a long time for
that effect to permeate to the periphery," he added, referring
to the share price boom since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took
office in December pledging to revive Japan's stale economy.
The Fukushima Daiichi plant has been brought into a stable
state known as "cold shut down" but decommissioning its damaged
reactors will take decades and cost billions of dollars. Many of
the 160,000 who fled will never be able to return.
Abe, who took office in December after his Liberal
Democratic Party's (LDP) huge election win, has boosted the
reconstruction budget to 25 trillion yen ($260 billion) from the
19 trillion yen over five years allocated by the government in
power when the disasters struck.