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Japan marks anniversary of tsunami tragedy
by Staff Writers
Ishinomaki, Japan (AFP) March 11, 2012

Japan PM calls for quicker tsunami waste processing
Tokyo (AFP) March 11, 2012 - The whole of Japan must redouble efforts to help rid tsunami-hit communities of the millions of tonnes of waste generated by last year's disaster, the prime minister said Sunday.

As the country marked the first anniversary of the tragedy that claimed more than 19,000 lives, Yoshihiko Noda urged areas outside of the disaster zone to pitch in to help dispose of the rubble.

"Today is a day of mourning as well as a day to renew our resolve to rebuild," he told a press conference just hours after the country observed a minute's silence at the exact moment the tsunami-causing quake struck last year.

"I urge the entire public to recognise that we are all directly involved in reconstruction."

The monster tsunami crushed whole communities along Japan's northeast coast, leaving behind 22.5 million tonnes of debris, including splintered houses and wrecked cars, most of which remains piled up in the region.

Only a handful of municipalities outside the disaster zone have offered to help process the debris, amid stiff public opposition from residents who fear it could be contaminated by radiation.

The tsunami knocked out cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, sending reactors into meltdown and shooting toxic isotopes into the atmosphere.

The government insists debris in Iwate and Miyagi, north of Fukushima, is virtually radiation free and does not pose a risk to human health when incinerated or processed.

"The world lavished praise on the spirit of the Japanese for helping one another in the aftermath of the disaster," Noda said.

"That Japanese psyche is being tested again. The processing of debris is a symbol of that."

Tokyo has offered to largely offset any costs local governments incur in accepting the waste.

Noda said he will be asking private companies, such as cement and paper producers, to help out with the task.

Japan fell silent Sunday to honour the 19,000 people killed a year ago in a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that triggered the world's worst nuclear crisis in a generation.

Tearful families gathered in towns and villages across the country's shattered northeast to remember those they lost as the towering waves smashed ashore.

At 2.46 pm (0546 GMT) the nation paused for a minute's silence to mark the moment nature's fury was visited on Japan, when the 9.0-magnitude quake set off a devastating chain of events.

At a national ceremony of remembrance in Tokyo silent prayers were led by Japan's prime minister and Emperor Akihito, who said the country would "never forget" its worst post-war calamity.

"Many difficulties lie ahead in the reconstruction of the disaster-affected areas," he said, urging citizens to "join their hearts with the people affected by the disasters, and continue to help them to improve their lives".

A single pillar symbolising the souls of those who died stood in the middle of the stage, decorated with white chrysanthemums and lilies.

Anti-nuclear demonstrations were held across the northeast region where an estimated 160,000 people were forced to evacuate after the monster waves triggered a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

One year on, more than 340,000 people are still living in temporary housing -- most lost their homes when a wall of black water crushed whole communities.

Others were forced to flee homes in the shadow of Fukushima as it began venting toxic radiation over homes and farmland when its cooling systems were knocked out, unleashing the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

Many parts of a 20-kilometre (12-mile) exclusion zone imposed around the Fukushima plant are likely to remain uninhabitable for years, perhaps decades.

In Okuma, home to the crippled plant, displaced residents wore anti-radiation suits, gloves and masks on a rare visit to their contaminated home town, where they remembered those they had lost.

An elderly woman, whose grandchild is still listed as missing, wept as she laid flowers at a makeshift altar.

"I want my grandchild to be found," she told reporters.

In the nearby city of Koriyama, around 16,000 people rallied to demand an end to nuclear power in Japan. "Fukushima is being forgotten day by day," said one protester, Yumiko Ono, a 34-year-old graphic designer from Tokyo.

"If we don't raise our voices right now, another accident could happen. We want to tell the world that the crisis and the hardship is still going on."

As darkness fell, candlelight ceremonies were held across the country to wrap up the day of commemoration. In Fukushima city, more than 300 people gathered for "Candle Night" in front of local government offices.

The battle for control of three runaway reactors was declared won in December when the government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) announced they were in "a state of cold shutdown".

On Sunday TEPCO President Toshio Nishizawa offered the latest in a line of apologies from a company that has become a byword for mistrust in Japan.

"We sincerely apologise to people in the neighbouring area, in Fukushima and in greater society for... the accident," he said.

The crisis at Fukushima has badly dented the country's faith in atomic power.

Energy-hungry Japan is just two reactors away from total nuclear shut-down, with public disquiet preventing utilities from re-starting shuttered plants amid fears for safety in an earthquake-prone nation.

Swathes of the tsunami-hit coast remain in ruins, with reconstruction work stalled amid arguments over where and how to rebuild. Once tight-knit villages have been scattered and the economy has taken a battering.

In Ishinomaki, home to a fifth of those who died in the disaster, tsunami warning sirens wailed to mark the moment the quake hit, sending huge waves into the city where they claimed the lives of nearly 4,000 people.

"It's been a year since my father died. I am going to pray that I can get over my grief and that my children can feel better," said Hitomi Oikawa, 37.

Speaking at the national ceremony, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda pledged Japan would recover from its tragedy.

"Our forebears, who led our country to prosperity, stood up with brave resolution in times of crisis," he said.

"While offering our support for the daily struggles of those people in the disaster-affected regions, we will join hands as we seek to fulfil our historic mission of 'the rebirth of Japan through reconstruction'."

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Key figures on Japan's quake-tsunami disaster
Tokyo (AFP) March 11, 2012 - The earthquake and tsunami of March 11 last year killed thousands and caused widespread damage as well as sparking a nuclear emergency at Fukushima.

As Japan marks the first anniversary of the disaster, here are some key figures:

Time of earthquake: 14:46 local time (0546 GMT). A tsunami warning was issued three minutes later.

Magnitude: 9.0

Epicentre: At 38.1 degrees north latitude, 142.9 east longitude in the Pacific Ocean, at the depth of 24 kilometres (14.9 miles) underwater.

Height of waves: Waves higher than 15 metres (49.5 feet) were observed in various places -- Ishinomaki, Soma, Ofunato, among others.

Confirmed deaths: 15,846

People still missing: 3,317

(No deaths have so far been attributed to exposure to radiation in the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant)

Injuries: 6,011

Refugees across the country: 341,411

Temporary houses constructed or under construction: 52,882

Buildings totally destroyed: 128,558

Buildings damaged: 916,883

Rubble generated in the three worst-affected prefectures (Miyagi, Iwate, Fukushima): 22 million tonnes.

The government has approved four reconstruction budgets for the fiscal year from April 2011 to March 2012, totalling 20.5 billion yen ($253 million).

Candlelight events mark Japan disaster anniversary
Fukushima, Japan (AFP) March 11, 2012 - Candlelight ceremonies were held across Japan Sunday night, wrapping up a day of commemoration as the nation marked the first anniversary of its devastating earthquake and tsunami.

More than 300 people gathered for "Candle Night" in front of local government offices in Fukushima city hours after around 16,000 people held an anti-nuclear rally in Koriyama, central Fukushima.

Organisers laid out candles in the form of a Chinese character of "kizuna", which means bonds between people, while musicians, including popstar Mayo Okamoto, performed.

"I came here to make a wish; this tragedy will never happen again and I can go home as soon as possible," said Chieko Daito, 35, who was evacuated from Iitate after high levels of radiation were found there.

In Ishinomaki, one of the coastal cities hit hard by the monster tsunami, some 2,000 candles were lit on the ground, while white balloons shaped as doves were released into the dark sky.

In Morioka, Iwate, city officials and private groups jointly held a candlelight event calling on citizens to light more than 19,000 candles, one for every person listed as dead or missing in the catastrophe.

Exactly a year ago, a magnitude 9.0 quake sent a tsunami barreling into Japan's northeastern coast, swamping cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, 220 kilometres (140 miles) northeast of Tokyo.

Three reactors went into meltdown, spewing radiation into the environment and forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate a 20-kilometre no-go zone immediately around the facility.


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Tsunami towns at crossroads, despite clean-up
Otsuchi, Japan (AFP) March 8, 2012
The boat that was dumped on the roof of Otsuchi's two-storey hotel has gone, and much of the rubble that littered this fishing port has been cleared. But the town lies paralysed, unable to rebuild and unwilling to abandon. Up and down Japan's tsunami-ravaged coastline, roads have been repaired and are now busy with cars taking people back to the prefabricated units they have learned to call ... read more

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