TOKYO – Ten years after a massive earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan’s northeastern coast, triggering meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, much has been achieved in disaster-hit areas but they are still recovering. Numbers show how much progress has been made and what still remains.
The magnitude 9.0 earthquake was one of the strongest temblors on record. It struck offshore at 2:46 p.m. and generated a towering tsunami that reached land within half an hour. A wave as high as 19 meters (62 feet) was recorded in the town of Miyako in Iwate prefecture. In Miyagi prefecture, the tsunami swept as far as 6 kilometers (3.6 miles) inland. The coastline where the tsunami had an impact stretches about 400 kilometers (240 miles).
The National Police Agency says 18,426 people died, mostly in the tsunami, including 2,527 whose remains have not been found. Local authorities still regularly conduct searches in the sea and along the coast for traces of those still missing. None of the fatalities has been directly linked to radiation.
42,500 PEOPLE HAVEN'T RETURNED
Nearly half a million people were displaced across the northeastern region. Ten years later, 42,565 people, including 35,725 from Fukushima, still haven’t been able to return home.
$295 BILLION COST
The government has spent 32 trillion yen ($295 billion) for the region's recovery, including construction of roads, seawalls and houses, and support for people's livelihoods. In addition, Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the destroyed nuclear plant, says its costs for decommissioning, compensating evacuees and decontamination of radioactive materials outside the plant will total 21.5 trillion yen ($200 billion), though analysts say it could be much higher.
A decade after the disaster, no-go zones remain in nine Fukushima municipalities surrounding the wrecked nuclear plant. The area accounts for 2.4% of prefectural land, down from more than 10% in the initial no-go zone. Decontamination efforts, such as the removal of topsoil and tree branches and the washing down of roofs, helped reduce radiation levels. But many residents are reluctant to return because of a lack of jobs and continuing radiation concerns.
14 MILLION TONS OF RADIOACTIVE WASTE
About 14 million tons of radioactive soil, trees and other waste from decontamination efforts across Fukushima are packed in massive numbers of plastic waste bags piled at temporary storage sites. The bags, enough to fill 11 enclosed baseball stadiums, are now being transported to a medium-term storage facility being built in the two towns that are home to the Fukushima nuclear plant. The government has promised to remove the bags from the prefecture in 30 years, but a final repository has not been determined.
432 KILOMETERS (270 MILES) OF SEAWALL
Much of Japan's northeastern coastline hit by the tsunami has been fortified with enormous concrete seawalls as high as 15 meters (50 feet). All of the walls have been completed except for sections of the eastern coast of Fukushima. When completed, the total length will be 432 kilometers (270 miles). Critics say the walls look like giant fortresses and block sea views, while posing a possible risk of preventing water from flowing back to sea if they are breached by a future tsunami.
4,000 NUCLEAR PLANT WORKERS
About 4,000 workers are employed every day at the damaged nuclear plant to help in its decommissioning, which officials say will take up to 40 years, a target critics say is overly optimistic. They are removing spent fuel rods from cooling pools, reinforcing a seawall to protect from future tsunamis, treating radioactive cooling water leaking from the reactors and removing highly contaminated debris.
1.24 MILLION TONS OF RADIOACTIVE WATER
Since the disaster, contaminated cooling water has leaked from the damaged reactor containment vessels into the basements of reactor buildings, where it mixes with groundwater. Much of the water is treated and stored in 1,000 huge tanks now crowding the plant. The operator, TEPCO, says the tanks currently contain 1.24 million tons of water and will be full in the fall of 2022. It says the water and tanks need to be removed to make room for facilities needed in the decommissioning process.