Tokyo, March 11 (IANS) At least 52,000 people still remain displaced in Japan even eight years after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused the Fukushima nuclear disaster and killed thousands.
The country on Monday remembered the 18,896 victims and the over 2,500 who were reported missing in the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that struck off the Pacific coast of Tohoku and the subsequent tsunami on this day in 2011, Efe news reported.
After eight years, 94.5 per cent of the reconstruction work has been completed in the affected coastal regions, according to latest official data.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in an address at a ceremony held at the National Theater in Tokyo, said that Japan was firmly moving towards recovery, and specifically underlined the construction of houses and infrastructure and the progress made at the Fukushima nuclear plant.
Around 52,000 people are still unable to return to their homes, most of them from Fukushima prefecture that was heavily contaminated by radioactive residues from three of the four reactors of the plant.
After completing the cleaning tasks and radioactive decontamination, authorities have progressively lifted restrictions on access in four of the seven localities that were worst affected by the accident.
On the other hand, Futaba, Okuma and Namie – the localities nearest to the plant – continue to be termed as areas of difficult return and it remains to be seen when the residents of these places will be allowed to return.
According to Greenpeace Japan, the radioactivity levels in several parts of Namie and Litate localities – where evacuation orders were recently lifted – are more than 100 times than the maximum recommended at the international level, which would pose a significant risk for the people living there.
Data collected by non-profit Japan Platform also shows that levels of radioactive elements detected in food products from Fukushima or in soil samples from the area were significantly higher than in other parts of the country, even though they are within the limits considered safe for consumption.
Along with cleaning the nuclear residues and enabling those displaced to return to their homes, the Japanese government aims to dismantle the Fukushima plant, a process that is expected to take at least 30 years and the cost for which could reach 20 trillion yen ($180 billion).