Japan's long recovery from disaster

By Marilynn McLachlan

A woman prays in front of a place where her relative used to run a restaurant in Natori, Miyagi prefecture, northern Japan. Photo / AP
A woman prays in front of a place where her relative used to run a restaurant in Natori, Miyagi prefecture, northern Japan. Photo / AP

On March 11 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the Pacific coast of Tohuku, Japan, triggered the most powerful tsunami the country ever experienced. The disaster claimed 15,884 lives and left thousands more injured or missing.

Three years later, those affected by the events are still recovering.

1. People are still dying from the disaster

In some areas, the number of people who have died from stress and other illnesses related to the earthquake and tsunami is higher than those who died directly from the disasters.
According to The Japan Times, the elderly are most at risk and that people have "undergone drastic changes in their lives and are still unable to map out their future plans, such as homecoming, causing increased stress on them"

2. Japan is struggling to rebuild communities

Nearly 270,000 remain displaced since the 2011 disaster. While international attention focuses on the nuclear meltdown issues in Fukushima, many small town residents on the north eastern coast are still without permanent homes.

Despite the government earmarking 25 trillion yen to the rebuild, labour shortages and red tape have meant that it is slow going, leaving ghost towns. It is estimated that it could take up to ten years for some communities to fully recover.
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3. Decommissioning reactor units could take up to 40 years

Three nuclear reactors suffered meltdowns and a fourth was damaged by explosions as a result of the earthquake. The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is responsible for decommissioning the units. They estimate that it could take between four and 40 years.

4. Those who came to Japan's aid claim they are still suffering

An online campaign has been set up for US sailors, soldiers and Marines who served near the power plant and who say they are suffering from radiation-related illnesses.
The US government has been quick to state that the nearly 75,000 service members, families and other personnel were only exposed to miniscule radiation levels and have so far rejected all claims.

5. Radioactive wreck might bring opportunity

In order to clean up the mess left by the nuclear meltdowns, Japan will have to develop technology that may one day be used by other countries. According to the World Nuclear Association there are 435 operable nuclear power reactors around the world, most of which were built in the 1960s, '70s and '80s with the peak being between 1974 and 1976. With the average nuclear power plant expected to last no more than 30 or 40 years Japan could turn their decommissioning expertise into big business.

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