Two years after the 11 March earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident that hit Japan, the country is still dealing with recovery. Reconstruction near Fukushima has been slow. There are positive signs for the Japanese economy, but nuclear power and the need for energy in Japan remains a hot button issue. The weekend saw anti-nuclear demonstrations in Japan ahead of the anniversary.
Report: Japan marks 2nd anniversary of triple disaster [Bloomberg Businessweek (AP), 10 Mar 2013]
Recovery and Reconstruction
It will take an estimated four decades to fully decommission reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, as radiation levels within the plant are still too high for workers to dismantle the reactors. Although the plant is no longer releasing radiation, there are still fears about agricultural produce from the area, despite tests to certify it is safe. Residents are also concerned about the effects on their health.
Over 300,000 people are still displaced from the disaster. Since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office, he has promised faster action and plans to raise the long-term reconstruction budget to 25 trillion yen ($262 billion) from 19 trillion yen (about $200 billion). However, despite the budget increase, rebuilding efforts remain slow for now.
Japan Two Years On
Although there are local concerns in the Fukushima region, at the national level Japan's national economy has performed strongly since 2011. According to the latest government figures, Japan's full-year growth for 2012 has raised slightly to 2%, up from the previous estimate due to stronger-than-expected economic performance in the last quarter.
Prime Minister Abe has pledged to boost Japan's flagging economy through various measures. He has already forced a change of leadership at the Central Bank of Japan. Mr. Abe also supports joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement involving the United States, Asia-Pacific countries, and Latin American nations, despite opposition from farmers and other Japanese sectors.
Mr. Abe's approval ratings are currently high, around the 70 percent mark in various polls. However, Mr. Abe's critics warn that his stimulus measures could increase Japan's public debt, and his efforts to fight deflation could impact global financial markets.
Nuclear Power and Energy
But there is a long-term concern facing Japan's economy - the country's need for energy. Only two of Japan's 50 nuclear reactors have been reactivated since the Fukushima incident. Given the country's large reliance on nuclear energy prior to 2011, it is likely Mr. Abe's government will push to restart more reactors.
However, many in Japan are now strongly opposed to nuclear energy. On 10 March, an estimated 40,000 anti-nuclear protesters demonstrated at various locations around Tokyo, ahead of the 11 March anniversary. Although many Japanese accept the short-term need to restart some nuclear power plants, it seems public sentiment favours that the use of nuclear energy be eventually phased out in the long term.