Not only was the human cost of the disaster huge but the ongoing financial cost of rebuilding broken communities is tough on the public purse
Cost of Fukushima repair bill totals Dh20 billion
The financial implications for Fukushima after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami have been massive, with repair bills running into billions of yen.
Six years on, the prefecture is finding it tough to readjust, reconstruct and recover what has been lost.
One year after the disaster, the reported cost of damage for public works facilities reached about 316.2 billion yen (Dh10.3bn), Dh8bn for agricultural, forestry and fishery facilities and Dh1.23bn for educational facilities. The total damage reported on public facilities reached Dh19.58bn.
“The coastal highway just opened and the coastal railway system will reopen in about two to three years,” said Seiichi Suzuki, president of the Fukushima Electric Power Company. “The Fukushima-Daiishi nuclear power plant, where the accident happened, and the Fukushima-Daiini power plant [now permanently closed] had about 10,000 employees working there. Before the earthquake, nuclear power and the economy were deeply connected but, afterwards, 100,000 were forced to evacuate within a 30km radius.”
In July, it was estimated that 15,224 houses were damaged across Fukushima prefecture, most of which – 10,016 – were located on the coast, with another 5,164 in the central region and 24 in the west.
Another 80,723 houses were half damaged, including 44,035 on the coast, 36,596 internally and 162 in the west. Mr Suzuki was one of the victims.
“An earthquake like that happens once in 1,000 years,” he said. “My house was located on the coastal town of Iwaki City at the time and it was 500 metres from the coast. Half my house was destroyed but I continued living there.”
The area is extremely prone to natural disasters, with the country's stretch located on the so-called Ring of Fire, where the North American, Pacific, Eurasian and Philippine plates come together. Just a few days ago, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck off the eastern coast of Fukushima, about 300km from Iwaki. “That earthquake was small for me,” Mr Suzuki said. “We experienced small to medium-sized aftershocks every day after the 2011 accident.”
The prefecture is now working on installing disaster-related public housing, with a plan to build almost 5,000 units for nuclear evacuees. It has also introduced an app to support returnees, as well as hundreds of life-support counsellors assigned to social welfare councils in 23 municipalities throughout the prefecture.
“It was the biggest earthquake I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Katsuichi Kato, president of Genki Up Tsuchiyu Company, which owns a geothermal power plant in Fukushima. “As Japanese people, we have never seen such a big earthquake before. There was one in Kobe, near Osaka, about 20 years ago, which completely destroyed the town but this was even bigger.”