Japan observes the fifth anniversary of a deadly earthquake and tsunami that struck the country on March 11, 2011. The resulting Fukushima nuclear accident has been called the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
Japan on Friday has mourned the people who died in a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and massive tsunami five years ago, which resulted in the deaths of nearly 20,000 people and crippled part of the country.
At 2:46 pm (0546 UTC/GMT), Japanese Emperor Akihito, Empress Michiko and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe bowed their heads along with many across the country to mark the exact moment the earthquake struck off the coast of Japan.
The devastating earthquake and tsunami left 15,894 people dead and 2,561 missing, according to statements made Thursday by the National Police Agency.
"Many people are still leading uncomfortable lives in the affected areas. There are many who cannot return to their beloved homes because of the accident at the nuclear power plant," Abe said at a memorial ceremony attended by officials and survivors in Tokyo.
The tsunami devastated the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, causing three of its six reactors to meltdown and eventually releasing radiation over a wide area across the Fukushima prefecture. More than 160,000 people had to be leave their homes in the subsequent evacuation.
The accident has been called the world's worst nuclear power disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
According to official estimates, nearly 100,000 people have been unable to return to their homes due to potential radiation contamination; the decommissioning process is likely to take more than four decades to complete, according to the plant's owner, Tokyo Electric Power Corporation (TEPCO).
However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has remained steadfast on the country's need for nuclear power, saying recently that reconstruction efforts would be accelerated in northern Japan where the tsunami struck.
"Our resource-poor country cannot do without nuclear power to secure the stability of energy supply while considering what makes economic sense and the issue of climate change," Abe told a press conference.
The pledge of commitment by the Japanese government has caused many people in the country to grow skeptical towards authority and about the safety of nuclear power.
A moment of silence
Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, Abe and survivors of the disaster are due to attend a government-sponsored memorial ceremony in Tokyo, where a moment of silence will be observed at the same time the quake struck.
In addition, trains across the country have been asked to halt and residents have been asked to bow their heads in remembrance and to honor those who lost their life on that tragic day.
ls, smm/msh (Reuters, AP)