Five years ago today, disaster hit Japan. A terrible earthquake, followed by a tsunami and an energy accident, causing three reactors at Fukushima to melt down claimed more than 19,000 deaths in total. The actual nuclear disaster caused few deaths, but much of the population living near Fukushima, exposed to huge amounts of radiation, are currently in danger of succumbing to radiation-induced cancer and other diseases.
A full cleanup of the site of the disaster is expected to take at least 40 years according to the government’s timetable and a century by other estimates. In the meantime, Fukushima remains vulnerable to future natural catastrophes.
Water is perhaps the biggest challenge the engineers face nowadays at Fukushima. They must keep it flowing through the damaged reactor cores to prevent the melted fuel from overheating. But the buildings are damaged, so radioactive water leaks out and builds up in the basements.
Today, Japan’s emperor has led tributes to the 19,000 people who died in the disaster. “Many of the people affected by the disaster are aging, and I worry that some of them may be suffering alone in places where our eyes and attention don’t reach,” he told his audience of 1,200 people. He is right to worry about that, since according to local authorities, by September last year 3,410 people had died from illnesses and in suicides linked to the triple disaster, reports The Guardian.
Many survivors have barely moved on with their lives. More than 180,000 people, belonging to the worst-hit prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima are still displaced, a third of them living in tiny prefabricated units.
Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, said that he is committed to speeding up the reconstruction effort after his cabinet approved a new 6.5 trillion yen (£40bn), five-year reconstruction plan focused on bettering public housing, medical care, infrastructure and tourism.