People join hands facing the sea to mourn victims in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, on the first anniversary of the disaster
2:47am UK, Sunday March 11, 2012
Japan is remembering the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck the nation one year ago, killing just over 19,000 people and unleashing the world’s worst nuclear crisis in a quarter of a century.
Along the tsunami-battered northeastern coast memorial ceremonies mark the precise moment the magnitude-9.0 earthquake hit – 2.46pm on March 11, 2011.
The main ceremony will be held in Tokyo at the National Theatre, attended by Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
A minute’s silence will be observed at the exact moment the quake hit (5.46am GMT).
The quake was the strongest recorded in Japan’s history, and set off a tsunami that towered more than 65ft in some spots along the coast, destroying thousands of homes and wreaking widespread destruction.
Ceremonies along the northeastern coast mark the one-year anniversary
Some 325,000 people left homeless in the disaster still remain in temporary housing.
While much of the debris has been gathered into massive piles, very little rebuilding has begun.
“I wish I could go back to my old house and get back our normal life again,” said Hyakuaiko Konno, a 64-year-old woman from the Ishinomaki coast who has been living in temporary housing for the past seven months.
The government says the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, where three reactor cores melted down after the tsunami knocked out their vital cooling systems, is stable and that radiation coming from the plant has subsided significantly.
But the plant’s chief acknowledged to journalists visiting the complex recently that it remains in a fragile state, and makeshift equipment – some mended with tape – could be seen keeping crucial systems running.
An anti-nuclear protest is also planned in downtown Tokyo amid growing public opposition to atomic power in the wake of the disaster, the worst since Chernobyl in 1986.
More than 19,000 people died when the quake-triggered tsunami hit
Only two of Japan’s 54 reactors are now running while those shut down for regular inspections undergo special tests to check their ability to withstand similar disasters.
They could all go offline by the end of April if none are restarted before then.
The Japanese government has pledged to reduce reliance on nuclear power, which supplied about 30% of the nation’s energy needs before the disaster.
However, it says some nuclear plants must be restarted to meet Japan’s energy needs during the transition period.
Mr Noda has acknowledged failures in the government’s response to the disaster, being too slow in relaying key information and believing too much in “a myth of safety” about nuclear power.
“We can no longer make the excuse that what was unpredictable and outside our imagination has happened,” he said.
“Crisis management requires us to imagine what may be outside our imagination.”
Enormous risks and challenges lie ahead at the Fukushima plant, including removal of the melted nuclear fuel from the core and the disposal of spent fuel rods. Completely decommissioning the plant could take 40 years.
Meanwhile, some 100,000 residents who lived around the plant are in temporary shelters or with relatives, unsure of when they will be able to return to their homes.
A 12-mile zone around the complex and an adjacent area remains off limits.
Efforts to make radiation-contaminated land around the plant inhabitable again have begun, using everything from shovels and high-powered water guns to chemicals that absorb radiation.
But it is a monumental, costly project fraught with uncertainty, and experts cannot guarantee it will be successful.
The environment ministry expects it will generate at least 100 million cubic meters of soil, enough to fill 80 domed baseball stadiums.