* PM Abe vows to speed up rebuilding from triple calamaties
* Two years on, more than 300,000 still living as evacuees
* Anti-nuclear activists fear media, public forgetting
By Linda Sieg and Kiyoshi Takenaka
TOKYO, March 11 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed
on Monday to speed up rebuilding from the huge earthquake,
tsunami and nuclear crisis that struck Japan's northeast two
years ago, promising that the nation would emerge stronger from
its worst disaster since World War Two.
The 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck at 2:46 p.m., triggering
tsunami waves as high as 30 metres (100 feet) that swept away
residents and their homes. Nearly 19,000 people died and some
315,000 evacuees were stranded, including refugees from
radiation spewed from the devastated Fukushima atomic plant.
Walls of water 13 metres high smashed into Tokyo Electric
Power Co's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant north of
Tokyo, knocking out its main power supply and 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.
"Our ancestors have overcome many difficulties and each time
emerged stronger," Abe, 58, who took office in December vowing
to revive a stagnant economy and restore national pride, told a
memorial service in Tokyo also attended by Emperor Akihito and
"We pledge anew to learn from them and move forward, holding
each other's hands."
Abe had earlier run an advertisement in English-language
newspapers on Monday extolling the virtues of a resilient "New
Japan" two years after 3.11.
Two years after the disasters, 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.
"In Tokyo, the economy might be improving as stock prices
rise, but it takes a long time for that effect to permeate to
He was referring to the share price boom since Abe's
Liberal Democratic Party's(LDP) landslide election to oust the
Democratic Party, in charge when the disasters struck.
The Fukushima Daiichi plant has been brought into a stable
state, 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.
"BATTLE AGAINST TIME"
Clean-up of communities further from the plant is haphazard
and slow and concerns remain about the impact on health from
radiation. A study by the World Health Organisation said last
month that people in the worst-affected area have a higher risk
of developing certain cancers, although for Japan's general
population, the predicted health risks were low.
Abe told a news conference that he would speed up the
reconstruction of devastated areas.
"Reconstruction is a battle against time," he said. "The Abe
cabinet will promote a reconstruction that people can truly feel
by implementing (policies) one by by."
Abe has boosted the reconstruction budget to 25 trillion yen
($260 billion) from the 19 trillion yen over five years
allocated by the previous government.
Abe plans to restart off-line nuclear reactors if they meet
new safety standards as he pushes policies to revive the
economy, the latest sign that Japan's powerful nexus of
politicians, bureaucrats and utilities known as the "nuclear
village" is again dominating the corridors of power.
"People and the media are starting to forget Fukushima and
what happened there," said a 32-year-old mother of two marching
with thousands of anti-nuclear protestors in Tokyo on the eve of
All but two of Japan's 50 nuclear reactors have been halted
for safety checks to see if they could withstand an earthquake
and tsunami of similar magnitude to the March 2011 disaster.
More than 1,600 residents who had lived near Fukushima sued
the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co on Monday seeking
damages expected to reach at least 5.36 billion yen, Jiji news
"Families and communities are breaking up, some are in
financial ruin and the divorces and mental breakdowns are
mounting. The companies that caused this nuclear crisis must be
held fully responsible," said Kumi Naidoo, executive director
for environmental group Greenpeace International in a statement.