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Japan

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Index
  1. Japan Main Page
  2. Japan Expands Its Empire
  3. Japan Tests Its Military Might
  4. Economic Recovery Is Followed by Deep Recession
  5. Succession of Prime Ministers Meet Only Fleeting Popularity
  6. Scandals Taint Leadership
  7. Tsunami Devastates Japan and Causes Nuclear Disaster
  8. Tension Increases with Asian Neighbors Over Islands
  9. Noda Wins Party Leadership Vote, but Faces Strong Opposition
  10. Shinzo Abe Becomes Prime Minister Again in Late 2012
  11. Ongoing Fukushima Leak Declared an Emergency
  12. Japan Lifts Decades Old Arms Ban
Tsunami Devastates Japan and Causes Nuclear Disaster

Japan was hit by a massive earthquake on March 11, 2011, that triggered a deadly 23-foot tsunami in the country's north. The giant waves deluged cities and rural areas alike, sweeping away cars, homes, buildings, a train, and boats, leaving a path of death and devastation in its wake. Video footage showed cars racing away from surging waves. The United States Geological Survey reported the earthquake and on Monday revised its magnitude from 8.9 to 9.0, which is the largest in Japan's history. The earthquake struck about 230 miles northeast of Tokyo.

Disaster struck again on Saturday, March 12, when about 26 hours after the earthquake, an explosion in reactor No. 1 at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station caused one of the buildings to crumble to the ground. The cooling system at the reactor failed shortly after the earthquake. Officials feared that a meltdown may occur, and radioactive material was detected outside the plant. These fears were realized on Sunday, when officials said they believed that partial meltdowns occurred at reactors No. 1 and No. 3. The cooling systems at another plant, Fukushima Daini, were also compromised but the situation there seemed to be less precarious. More than 200,000 residents were evacuated from areas surrounding both facilities. Problems were later reported at two other nuclear facilities.

By Tuesday, March 15, two more explosions and a fire had officials and workers at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station struggling to regain control of four reactors. The fire, which happened at reactor No. 4, was contained by noon on Tuesday, but not before the incident released radioactivity directly into the atmosphere. The Japanese government told people living within 20 miles of the Daiichi plant to stay indoors, to not use air conditioning, and to keep their windows closed. More than 100,000 people are in the area. The government called in 100,000 troops to aid in the relief effort. The deployment is the largest since World War II.

On Aug. 26, 2011, Prime Minister Naoto Kan resigned. The Japanese Parliament elected Yoshihiko Noda as the new prime minister by the end of the month. After taking office, Noda vowed to restart Japan's nuclear plants once they pass safety checks. Noda also said that the country should decrease its reliance on nuclear energy in the years to come. Noda, a fiscal conservative, became the sixth prime minister in five years and faced a weak economy, mounting debt, and the on-going recovery from the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster from earlier this year.

Tokyo Electric Power released the results of an internal study on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on Dec. 2, 2011. The study found that the power plant withstood the March 11, 2011 earthquake. The report revealed that the tsunami, which followed the earthquake, caused the damaged to the plant. The company hoped the study's results would calm concerns about other nuclear plants in Japan where earthquakes are far more common than tsunamis. The report showed that the company was unprepared for the large tsunami and, therefore, slow to respond to the disaster. The Japanese government was also conducting a separate investigation.

Also in December, Prime Minister Noda announced that the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant were under control, thus declaring an end to the nuclear disaster. The government planned to spend the next several years removing the fuel stored at the site and dismantling the plant, budgeting 1.15 trillion yen ($14 billion) through March 2014 for the radiation cleanup. Some radiation-poisoned areas could take decades to clean up. By the end of 2011, the government had lifted evacuation orders for some of the communities near the plant, but many of the 160,000 people refused to return home.

A year after the disaster, the country was still recovering. While the country rebuilt factories and roads as well as showed growth in its economy by the end of 2011, the cleanup was still far from complete. More than 160,000 people had not returned to their homes in the radiation-poisoned areas. Not trusting the decontamination process, they refused to go home even after the government lifted evacuation orders from certain communities.

An independent parliamentary commission released a report in July 2012, stating that the 2011 nuclear crisis was a preventable disaster. The report also concluded that the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant could have been damaged first by the March 2011 earthquake, before the tsunami hit. The fact that the earthquake could have damaged the plant was particularly unsettling because earthquakes occur frequently in Japan. It was also a cause for concern because, during the summer of 2012, Japan was removing its temporary freeze on nuclear power and restarting the Ohi nuclear plant. All 50 of Japan's nuclear reactors have been idle since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011.

In Feb. 2012, Japan and the U.S. revisited their 2006 agreement over removing 8,000 Marines from Okinawa. For years, Okinawa residents have opposed the presence of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, a reminder of the United States' occupation of Japan after World War II. Both sides agreed to revise the 2006 condition that the key base must be relocated before moving the Marines. The Marines were supposed to relocate to Guam by 2014. Even without the 8,000 Marines, the island would still have 10,000 Marines as well as the U.S. Air Force's Kadena Air Base.

Next: Tension Increases with Asian Neighbors Over Islands
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