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Three years on, Japan struggles to recover from Fukushima disaster


Japan is observing the third anniversary of the tragic earthquake and tsunami that killed thousands of people and triggered a nuclear crisis, with the country divided over the future of nuclear power.


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Emperor Akihito on Tuesday were participating in a memorial service in Tokyo to mourn for the victims of the disaster, marking the moment the magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck three years ago.

In northern Japan, where the meltdown of the Fukushima Dia-ichi nuclear power plant ruined entire communities, residents held their own memorial services for the deceased.

The triple catastrophe of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis killed 15,884 people and left 2,636 unaccounted for on Japan’s northern coast, according to the most recent figures. In all, nearly 19,000 people died or remain missing across the country.

Tokyo has earmarked 25 trillion yen (180 billion euros) for reconstruction through March 2016, and re-building is underway.

But Japan is still struggling to restore tsunami-hit communities and clean up radiation from the multiple nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima.

Nearly 270,000 people in the region are unable to go home due to radioactive contamination. Shortages of skilled workers and materials have also delayed the work.

Towards a new energy policy?

While the fate of over one-quarter million people who were displaced by the nuclear disaster remains in the balance, so too does the country’s energy policy.

As the country remembers the tragic events that began on March 11, 2011, its 48 nuclear reactors remain offline. Many Japanese now question whether a return to nuclear energy is even necessary.

Recent opinion studies reveal that up to 60% of Japanese would support keeping the reactors offline permanently.

“Nuclear energy is not needed. We have sufficient electricity and we can live our lives without it,” Hideko Kihara, an anti-nuclear activist, told FRANCE 24. “We can get by if we develop clean and renewable sources of energy.”

Others are not sure the country’s economy can remain afloat without a return to nuclear energy, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Since the accident, Japan has been forced to import costly fossil fuels to plug its energy gap, widening its trade deficit.

Paul Scalise, an adjunct fellow at Tokyo Temple University, told FRANCE 24 that because of its new dependence on fossil fuels, Japan will also be hard-pressed to meet the obligations of the Kyoto Protocol in terms of reducing CO2 emissions.

Green energy projects have been launched, including offshore wind turbine farms and vast solar panel installations. However, these projects still contribute little to the total electricity consumption of the country.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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