Last week, Japan marked the fifth year anniversary of the country’s largest recorded earthquake. The 9.0 magnitude earthquake ruptured 130 kilometres off of the Japanese Northeast coast and subsequently set off a tsunami, which would take the life of more than 18,000 people. When the tsunami hit the Honshu coastline, travelling 700 kilometres per hour, it destroyed communities and flooded areas up to 10 kilometres inland. The tsunami, which had already caused so much devastation, also triggered the worst nuclear incident since Chernobyl. The tsunami inundated the nuclear power station in Fukushima, which led to a meltdown in its three reactors due to the breakdown of its cooling system. The next day, the release of radioactive materials was a fact and it continues, until today, to leak into the ocean.
On the day of the anniversary, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emphasised the importance of reconstruction. He promised to increase the pace of the decontamination work in the exposed communities near the power plant in order for residents to return home. Abe is also set to expedite the rebuilding of the coastal railway in Fukushima in order to have it open prior to the 2020 summer Olympics in Tokyo. The government seeks to reopen all evacuated zones by March, except for the seriously contaminated areas surrounding the power plant. However, these efforts have been criticised by the residents of the affected areas. Many believe that the speed of the construction merely is to ensure the safety of the Olympics, rather than its residents. Abe’s goal is for tourism to triple in the North by 2020 in order to convince the outside world of its progress and safety. As a seismically active nation, the number of views that are critical of the nation’s dependency on nuclear power has grown. While all 50 of the nuclear reactors in Japan were shut down directly after the disaster, the Prime Minister proclaimed that they will be reactivated as soon as they meet the new safety code. Earlier this week, ABC news reported on Abe, who stated that “Our country is a resource-poor nation and in order to secure energy supply while considering the economic efficiency and climate change problems, nuclear power is indispensable.”
Today, life for some has returned to normal, while others are still exiled from their homes due to the threat of radiation or because of bureaucratic postponements. The rebuilding of houses has been delayed because of the extensive civil engineering projects. While some communities’ ground level has been raised, others have been surrounded by sea walls in order to prevent history from repeating itself. More than 100,000 people are still displaced in their own country, and up to 20,000 remain in temporary housing that they were intended to stay in for 24 months. For many of the residents of the disaster-hit region, there is no going back despite the lifting of the evacuation order. According to Sashiko Mashio, who previously lived 20 kilometres North of the power plant, her house is now uninhabitable due to numerous burglaries, Al Jazeera reports. Those who have chosen to return near the exclusion zone, are constantly reminded of the health concerns, and they regularly check the radiation levels of their food. For the communities near Fukushima, many families are broken and separated: “My family fell apart, we all live in different places now” says 90-year-old, Eiko Hasegawa.
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