11 Mar 2012

Japan marks devastating tsunami one year on

9:33 pm on 11 March 2012

Millions of people around Japan have marked the first anniversary of the massive earthquake and tsunami which devastated dozens of communities and left 20,000 people dead or missing.

Remembrance services have been held all up and down the devastated coastline.

A magnitude 9 earthquake triggered a massive wall of water that devastated Japan's north-east coast on 11 March 2011. Some 3300 people remain unaccounted for and 340,000 are still homeless.

The main memorial service was in Tokyo and was attended by Japan's Emperor Akihito and prime minister Yoshihiko Noda.

The emperor, who three weeks ago underwent heart bypass surgery, said Japan would never forget the tragedy and spoke of the importance of "kizuna", or human bonds, in the wake of the disaster.

"Let us all as Japanese citizens think of the disaster-stricken areas and make efforts for the recovery and reconstruction and never forget the disaster that struck," he said.

The ABC reports dozens of communities hit by the terrifying tsunami also stopped to remember the dead and missing.

Trains stopped, shoppers stood still and people throughout Japan fell silent at 2:46pm local time, marking the exact moment the earthquake struck, setting off a catastrophic chain of events.

The massive waves, some nearly 40 metres high, left 19,000 Japanese dead.

The tsunami also slammed into the Fukushima nuclear plant, helping to trigger meltdowns in three reactors.

In Fukushima and the nearby city of Koriyama, tens of thousands of people were expected to gather in anti-nuclear protests, calling for the end of atomic power in the wake of the crisis at Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

Among those protesting will be some of the nuclear refugees forced to flee their homes in the shadow of the plant as it began venting toxic radiation over homes and farmland.

The government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) announced in December "a state of cold shutdown" for three runaway reactors that went into meltdown when their cooling systems were swamped by the tsunami.

But with radiation having leaked from the crippled plant for months, many parts of a 20 kilometre exclusion zone around it are likely to remain uninhabitable for years - perhaps decades - to come, scientists warn.

Challenge to rebuild

New Zealander Patrick Fuller works for the Red Cross and was in Japan immediately after the tsunami. He has returned regularly since and says Sunday's remembrances will rekindle painful memories for many.

Mr Fuller says while the Japanese government has built 50,000 temporary homes in the past year, the focus now is on dealing with the debris from the tsunami.

"These huge mountains of concrete and twisted metal everywhere and then bare landscape, it's like a ghost town.

"The big challenge now is rebuilding these towns - how they're going to go about it to draw people back, particularly young people, because a lot of people living in these towns were fairly elderly."

Fukushima meltdown risk 'kept secret'

Documents just released in Japan show the government knew within hours of the tsunami that there was a risk of a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, but kept the knowledge secret.

Unofficial minutes of a crisis meeting on the day of the tsunami show that an official warned ministers of the threat posed by the possible failure of cooling systems, the BBC reports.

In the event, the cooling systems did fail and reactors overheated, causing the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.