Japan Marks Two-Year Anniversary of Earthquake, Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

World reflects on fallout, nuclear and political, of the catastrophe.

An elderly woman looks around the ruins of her house in a devastated area in Rikuzentakata in Iwate prefecture on May 1, 2011.
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Two years ago today Japan suffered its most powerful known earthquake, which rattled the country, unleashed a tsunami of up to 100 feet, and resulted in the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

More than 18,000 people died as a result of the disaster. The National Police Agency of Japan records 15,881 documented deaths and 2,668 individuals still classified as missing.

The Telegraph reports that approximately 90 percent of the dead drowned in the tsunami, and that only 4.2 percent of victims were crushed to death. Elderly Japanese over age 65 made up 56 percent of the dead.

The World Bank estimated in 2011 that the earthquake could have caused $235 billion of damage.

[PHOTOS: Japan Ravaged by Tsunami]

In the wake of the powerful 9.0 magnitude quake the nuclear power plant in Fukushima—located along the Japanese coast north of Tokyo—was hit by tsunami waves, setting off a cascade of ever-more-alarming problems.

Issues maintaining electrical power and cooling systems led to nuclear fuel overheating. As the fuel overheated there were explosions, fires, and the emergency use of seawater to prevent an even greater catastrophe.

Bloomberg reports that despite the worldwide panic induced two years ago by Fukushima, there were no deaths caused by radiation exposure and "about 80 percent of the radiation released was blown into the ocean."

"Fukushima has become a reminder that uninformed fears aren't the same as actual risks," the authors of the Bloomberg report write.

[READ: Experts on Fukushima: It Can't Happen Here]

The political fallout from Fukushima was significant. At the time of the disaster Germany generated about 25 percent of its electricity from nuclear power. Two months after the earthquake Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that her country would entirely abandon nuclear power by 2022.

In Japan Monday citizens commemorated the anniversary with solemn ceremonies. The Associated Press reported that residents of the most severely affected areas are frustrated by the lack of reconstruction progress.

The emperor of Japan, Akihiti, said during a Tokyo memorial service, "I pray that the peaceful lives of those affected can resume as soon as possible." Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised a renewed commitment to rebuilding, saying, "We cannot turn away from the harsh reality of the affected areas. The Great East Japan Earthquake still is an ongoing event."

 

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