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Ten years on, Japan remembers Fukushima nuclear disaster

The people of Japan are preparing to mark the numerous deaths and widespread destruction caused by the accident at the Fukushima nuclear facility in 2011, which has become the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986.

On March 11, exactly ten years ago, a huge earthquake and tsunami hit the Asia Pacific country, killing an estimated 20,000 people and devastating towns and triggering nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima.

An onslaught of waves sparked by the 9.0-magnitude quake had crashed into the Japanese northeastern coast, killing thousands and crippling the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. More than 160,000 residents fled as radiation spewed into the air.

At the time, some – including Prime Minister Naoto Kan – feared the national capital, Tokyo, would need to be evacuated.

Kiyoshi Kurokawa headed a probe into the disaster, which concluded that the incident was “profoundly man-made”.

“Fukushima is stamped for the rest of the history of nuclear energy,” Mr. Kurokawa said when presenting the report of the panel.

Japan’s government has so far spent about 300 billion Dollars in rebuilding the tsunami-devastated Tohoku region, but areas around the Fukushima plant remain off-limits. Concerns about radiation levels linger as many who left have settled elsewhere.

Experts believe decommissioning of the crippled plant will require several decades and billions of dollars.

Japan, a resource-poor country, has, a decade after Fukushima, now resumed debating the role of nuclear power in its energy mix as it  aims to achieve net carbon neutrality by 2050.

According to a recent opinion survey, a whopping 85% of the Japanese public worries about nuclear accidents.

Yet, energy policy was left in limbo after former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe led his pro-nuclear energy Liberal Democratic Party back to power in 2012, ousting the novice Democratic Party of Japan, whose image was tainted by its handling of Fukushima.

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