Tokyo: Japan on Monday marks the second anniversary of a ferocious tsunami that claimed nearly 19,000 lives and sparked the worst nuclear accident in a generation.
The government will host a national ceremony in Tokyo, attended by Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, to mourn 15,881 people who died and 2,668 others who remain unaccounted for.
They and the rest of the nation will observe a moment of silence at 2:46 pm (0546 GMT), the moment a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck on March 11, 2011, in waters off the northeastern Pacific coast.
The jolt unleashed a killer tsunami that swallowed coastal communities and battered the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which went through meltdowns and explosions in what was to become the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.
Efforts to rebuild the disaster-hit region have been slow; figures show 315,196 people are still without a permanent home, many in cramped temporary housing units.
Tsunami-hit communities are divided among those who want to rebuild on land that may have been in the family for generations and those who want to move their town to higher, safer ground.
Complications associated with stressful living conditions have killed 2,303 survivors of the quake/tsunami, government figures show, while domestic violence and depression are increasingly noted as problems in some communities.
Nearly 10,000 aftershocks have been recorded since the original quake, including 736 jolts that measured above magnitude 5.0, some shaking the ground at the Fukushima plant where there are still no permanent fixes for the damaged reactors.
Many young people are leaving the region, particularly nuclear-tainted Fukushima where the economy is faltering, to start new lives.
The government says the Fukushima plant is stable and no longer releasing radioactive materials. It says food products from the region are checked for radioactive contamination before being shipped to markets.
Despite reassurances, many consumers avoid Fukushima produce fearing it is contaminated, dealing another blow to the region’s already-faltering farming industry.
“We will do what we can in Fukushima. But I ask that the rest of the country, the rest of the Japanese people, become knowledgeable about radiation,” Fukushima governor Yuhei Sato said on a special programme on national broadcaster NHK.
“That in turn should lead to better understanding of Fukushima and the eradication of the baseless belief” that all Fukushima products are contaminated, he said.
The government will need up to four decades to dismantle the crippled reactors, while the nation remains undecided over whether to continue using nuclear energy to power the world’s third largest economy.
Only two of its 50 commercial nuclear reactors have been restarted, with strict safety standards and political nervousness keeping the others offline.
But with no commercially viable alternatives available and staunchly pro-nuclear Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the helm, analysts say it is likely just a matter of time before some units are fired up again.