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Japan tsunami: Three years on

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The road to reconstruction

A fishing vessel swept ashore by the tsunami following the March 2011 earthquake sits abandoned on a breakwater in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, on Monday, March 10, 2014.
Kiyoshi Ota | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Japan marks the three-year anniversary of the deadly earthquake and tsunami that ravaged its northeast coast, sparking the world's biggest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986 and leading to a global reassessment of atomic energy.

The double disaster – an 8.9 magnitude earthquake that unleashed a 10-meter-high tsunami – swept away entire towns and villages taking the lives of nearly 16,000 people.

It also devastated the Fukushima nuclear plant north of Tokyo, which went through reactor meltdowns and explosions that spewed radioactive material, forcing more than 150,000 people from their homes.

The government last year expanded its reconstruction budget to 25 trillion yen from 19 trillion yen. However, progress has been slow amid a shortage of skilled workers and materials.

Today, tens of thousands of people still remain in cramped temporary housing, while others have found shelter in new cities or with relatives.

Meanwhile, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is making a national push to revive Japan's nuclear energy program, upsetting the public who want the government to pull the plug on nuclear power for good.

Click ahead for images of the affected areas, the ongoing search for missing people and the state of the Fukushima nuclear plant three years on from the disaster.

By CNBC's Ansuya Harjani

Posted 11 March 2014

Paying respects to victims

People pray for tsunami victims at the seashore in Arahama district in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture on March 11, 2014
Kazuhiro Nogi | AFP | Getty Images

Relatives pray for tsunami victims at the seashore in the Arahama district in Sendai, Miyagi prefecture in Japan's northeastern Tohoku region.

The tsunami sent a huge wall of water into the coast of the Tohoku region, splintering whole communities and destroying strips of prime farmland.

Nearly 16,000 people were killed and over were 6,000 injured by the quake, tsunami or resulting fires.

Search for the missing

Divers of a Japanese Coast Guard marine rescue unit enter the water in the hope of finding missing persons at Tsukahama coastal area in Onagawa, Miyagi prefecture on March 10, 2014.
Kazuhiro Nogi | AFP | Getty Images

Divers of a Japanese Coast Guard marine rescue unit enter the water in hopes of finding missing persons.

Three years after the disaster, more than 2,600 people remain missing in Japan; their bodies were presumably swept out to sea.

Photographs lost and found

An elderly man looks through photographs, which were repaired after being washed away by the earthquake and tsunami at a gymnasium March 10, 2014 in Sendai, Miyagi prefecture, Japan.
Getty Images

An elderly man looks through photographs, which were repaired after being washed away by the tsunami at a gymnasium in Sendai, Miyagi prefecture.

Tsunami-ravaged school

Kazuhiro Nogi | AFP | Getty Images

A cenotaph for tsunami victims is built in front of a former elementary school in Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture.

Remains of the tsunami

Collapsed building at a fishing port in Onagawa, Miyagi prefecture on March 10, 2014
Kazuhiro Nogi | AFP | Getty Images

A collapsed building remains unremoved from a fishing port in Onagawa, Miyagi prefecture.

Honoring lost lives

A Buddhist statue erected to honour Japan's tsunami victims is seen on the seashore one day before the third anniversary of the country's March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in the Arahama district of Sendai, Miyagi prefecture, on March 10, 2014.
Kazuhiro Nogi | AFP | Getty Images

A Buddhist statue erected to honor Japan's tsunami victims is seen on the seashore in the Arahama district of Sendai, Miyagi prefecture.

Radiation check

Firefighters check radiation levels at a community center as they patrol the town of Namie, near the striken TEPCO Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Fukushima prefecture on March 10, 2014.
Yoshikazu Tsuno | AFP | Getty Images

Firefighters check radiation levels at a community center as they patrol the town of Namie, near the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichinuclear plant.

A pressing concern among Japan residents remains consuming food contaminated with radioactive material.

In the three months following the catastrophe, 53 percent of fish sampled off Fukushima showed radiation levels surpassing the safety limit of 100 becquerels per kilogram, CBS reported.

However, by the following year, the proportion of contaminated fish had halved and in November 2013, only 2.2 percent of samples tested unsafe.

Containing the toxic water

Photographer | Collection | Getty Images

Welded water storage tanks are seen being built above ground at the Fukushima power plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture

Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), pours hundreds of tonnes of water a day over the reactors to cool them after the tsunami caused nuclear fuel to melt down, according to Reuters. The radioactive runoff is stored in tanks above ground.

Inside the Fukushima power plant

The central operating control room of the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors is opened to the media by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture on March 10, 2014
Koji Sasahara | AFP | Getty Images

The central operating control room of the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at the crippled Fukushima power plant was opened to the media this week.

Tepco faces the challenge of working out how to shutdown these reactors, which suffered meltdowns and remain dangerously radioactive, according to CNN.

Down with nuclear power

People shout slogans as they march down the street toward the official residence of the prime minister and the National Diet during an anti-nuclear power plant demonstration in Tokyo on March 9, 2014.
Toru Yamanaka | AFP | Getty Images

Over the weekend, thousands rallied in front of the Japanese parliament to demand an end to nuclear power ahead of the third anniversary of the Fukushima disaster.

Participants at the demonstration, one of several planned across cities in Japan, also vowed to block a move by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to restart some of the 48 idled nuclear reactors, the Associated Press reported.