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Balancing act for tsunami mayor and single father
by Staff Writers
Rikuzentakata, Japan (AFP) March 2, 2012

Mayor Futoshi Toba has spent the past year trying to rebuild a city that was virtually wiped from the map by Japan's tsunami, battling the government's sometimes slipshod approach to recovery while also learning to be a single parent to his two motherless sons.

One year on from the disaster, there has been progress, but there is a long fight ahead.

"We are just about at the starting line in terms of the reconstruction marathon," the 47-year-old mayor told AFP, speaking in his prefabricated office on a hill that overlooks the razed city of Rikuzentakata in northeast Japan.

More than 1,800 people, including Toba's wife, died in the city after the earthquake and tsunami on March 11 last year -- nearly 10 percent of the national toll.

A third of the administration's civil servants perished and 90 percent of buildings were levelled.

The picture-postcard sea shore was destroyed, with all but one of the 70,000 pine trees that lined the coast uprooted, taking the area's tourism industry with them.

Most of what was once the city has been cleared, but here and there stand the skeletal shells of buildings -- including the old city hall to whose roof Toba led his staff as the tsunami came crashing in.

Rikuzentakata has a preliminary plan to rebuild, Toba says, gesturing to an aerial photograph showing the extent of the devastation, but a lack of leadership from Tokyo is making things hard.

"If the government is going to be involved in reconstruction, it should give us clear instructions," said Toba, who became mayor of Rikuzentakata just a month before the tragedy struck.

"If it can't do that, it should leave the decisions to local people."

Money that was set aside for disaster recovery has been painfully slow to materialise.

Special budgets in May, July and November allocated more than 14 trillion yen ($172 billion) to rebuild the region hit by the quake and tsunami.

But only 7.8 trillion yen -- 55 percent -- of the money had been spent by the end of January, according to the government's Reconstruction Agency.

Less than four percent of funds set aside for rebuilding key infrastructure, such as roads, dikes and sewerage, had been put into action by the end of December, the Asahi Shimbun reported, citing government documents.

Toba says there is a "huge gap" between politicians in the capital and those living in areas torn apart by the country's worst post-war calamity, with metropolitan lawmakers seemingly wrapped up in party politicking.

A power struggle within the ruling party is widely seen as having slowed the government's decisions, with the opposition also blamed for stalling key bills and budgets to score political points.

Tokyo stands accused of failing to persuade other parts of Japan to help with the disposal of the estimated 22.5 million tonnes of debris the tsunami generated, with only about six percent processed as of February.

Toba says dithering by former prime minister Naoto Kan, when he stayed in office long after promising to resign, had created uncertainty for the crisis-hit northeast, insisting the then premier should have fallen on his sword much more quickly.

Kan's successor, Yoshihiko Noda, has been similarly ineffective, says Toba, with no decision made on whether Tokyo will buy land in tsunami-hit zones and rebuild breakwaters -- the fundamental starting point for reconstruction.

Toba's anger is tempered, however, by an acknowledgement of human frailty -- a lesson that has been hammered home for him over the last 12 months.

"Mayors and prime ministers -- all of them are just human," Toba said.

"I tell myself that I should be strong in public, but in front of my sons I am just a father."

Since last March, Toba has had to balance his duty to the city with the role he has to play at home for two children, aged 13 and 11, whose mother died when their seaside home was swept away.

"My boys were badly affected by her loss. The younger one still cries at night," he said.

Toba now sports a beard, which he has vowed not to shave until Rikuzentakata is firmly on the path to recovery.

He said life as a single parent and a mayor could be difficult, and he often turns to memories of his wife, Kumi, to help him through the hard times.

"She is still protecting me from heaven," he said.

"All I can do for her now is to help rebuild this city and to bring up our two sons properly. These are my promises."

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Japan will burn tsunami debris
Tokyo (UPI) Mar 2, 2012 - Japanese scientists say tsunami debris from the March 2011 disaster will be incinerated and the resulting ash will not present a public radiation hazard.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government said Friday it has begun storing debris from the affected prefectures of Miyagi and Iwate in preparation for the incineration program that will dispose of 500,000 tons of rubble, Kyodo News reported.

Amid public radiation fears from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear disaster, the metro government conducted test burns of tsunami debris and said no problems were found.

The debris from the two prefectures would be incinerated with ordinary Tokyo waste, officials said.

The test burns produced no nuclear materials above acceptable limits in the exhaust gas and water, and any radioactive materials present were on a par with ordinary Tokyo waste, they said.


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For disaster debris arriving from Japan, radiation least of the concerns
Corvallis, OR (SPX) Mar 01, 2012
The first anniversary is approaching of the March, 2011, earthquake and tsunami that devastated Fukushima, Japan, and later this year debris from that event should begin to wash up on U.S. shores - and one question many have asked is whether that will pose a radiation risk. The simple answer is, no. Nuclear radiation health experts from Oregon State University who have researched thi ... read more

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