Checking in: Japan One Year Later

A look at how Japan has recovered one year after the devastating earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster.

By Jennie Wood

Anti-Nuclear Rally

Anti-Nuclear Power Plant Rally, September 19, 2011

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March 11, 2012, marks the first anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that killed almost 16,000 people and set off a nuclear disaster in Japan. A year later, the country is still recovering. While the country has already rebuilt factories and roads, as well as shown growth in its economy, the cleanup is far from complete. More than 160,000 people have not returned to their homes in the radiation-poisoned areas. Many don't trust the decontamination process. They refuse to go home even after the government has lifted evacuation orders from certain communities.

In August 2011, the country chose a new prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, to help lead the recovery. Noda became Japan's sixth prime minister in five years. In December 2011, Noda declared an end to the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, announcing that all the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant were under control. However, some radiation-poisoned areas could take decades to clean up. Japan's government has budgeted 1.15 trillion yen ($14 billion) through March 2014 for the radiation cleanup, but it is highly likely that the process will take longer and cost more.

The nuclear disaster sparked anti-nuclear protests and rallies across the country. Early in 2012, former Prime Minister Naoto Kan said, "Japan needs to dramatically reduce its dependence on nuclear power, which supplied 30% of its electricity before the crisis." In late February 2012, a new report by the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation found that during the nuclear disaster, no one knew the extent of the damage at the plant. The report also said that while leaders downplayed the risks to the public, they secretly considered evacuating Tokyo.

Despite the daunting task of recovering from an earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster, Japan's economy grew by the end of 2011, exports increased by 6.2%, and replacement demand after the disaster helped increase domestic consumption, which is two-thirds of Japan's economy. The economic growth in light of a struggling global economy showed how quickly Japan was able to bounce back. The economic growth is good news in light of Japan's deficit, which is around 10 trillion yen, twice the size of its economy. Investor confidence in Japanese bonds remains high, allowing the nation to continue to borrow at low rates. Japan may be still reeling from the 2011 disaster, but the resilient nation is on its way to recovery.

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