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The Kikuta family observe a moment of silence at a site where their house once stands at 2:46 PM, the time the March 11 earthquake and tsunami hit one year ago, in Kesennuma, Iwate prefecture, northeastern Japan, Sunday, March 11 2012. Through silence and prayers Sunday, people across Japan remembered the disaster, killing just over 19,000 people and unleashing the world's worst nuclear crisis in a quarter century.
Image: AP

Japan marks year since tsunami

March 11, 2012

Japan marked the first anniversary on Sunday of its massive March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that killed nearly 16,000 people and left more than 3,000 missing.


Japan marked the first anniversary on Sunday of its magnitude 9 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that claimed 16,000 lives and left 3,300 people unaccounted for.

People across the island nation held a moment of silence, shutting down public transport and other public activities to mark the exact moment when the island nation shook massively.

A national ceremony of remembrance took place in Tokyo, with the Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and the Emperor Akihito leading silent prayers for those who perished in the country's worst post-war disaster.

At dawn in the devastated northeastern town of Rikuzentakata, dozens of people from across the country offered prayers in front of a solitary pine tree that still stands and which has become a symbol of survival.

A year on from the quake and its devastating coastal waves the country is still struggling to come to terms with the human, economic and political costs.

The tsunami was followed by meltdowns at three reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant because its cooling systems were disabled by maritime floodwaters.

Radiation leaked, prompting evacuations of 100,000 residents from a no-go zone. Some experts say the dosage was low, but others point out that cancer and other illnesses take years to become visible.

Protest outside TEPCO

Anti-nuclear protesters on Sunday gathered outside the headquarters of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the Fukushima plant, demanding that all nuclear plants be shut down.

Across Europe, anti-nuclear protesters also staged vigils. In Germany, 3,000 people formed a human chain around a northern nuclear plant, Brokdorf, Gundremmingen in Bavaria and the waste storage sites of Asse and Schacht Konrad east of Hanover.

Last year in reaction to Fukushima, Chancellor Angela Merkel's government reversed policy by deciding to permanently switch off eight of Germany's oldest reactors, close nine others by 2022, and to promote renewable energy sources.

But, organisers of Sunday's protests, including environmental lobby groups, said Germany's exit was "too slow" and "half-hearted."

Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen said Germany was at the forefront of the search for energy alternatives. "Whether other countries take on our model also depends on us being successful," Roettgen said.

In Switzerland, 5,000 anti-nuclear demonstrators converged on Muehleberg, in the west of the alpine nation, to demand the closure of the local nuclear power station and Beznau 1. It was opened in 1969 and ranks as the world's oldest functioning nuclear power station after the closure of Britain's Oldsbury reactor last month.

In the wake of Fukushima, the Swiss parliament decided on a nuclear phase-out for the country's five reactors by 2034.

In Somerset, southern England, protesters staged a 24-hour blockade of the closed Hinkley Point station. The French giant EDF Energy has earmarked the site for a new plant. British firms, including Rolls-Royce plan to share stakes in its construction.

EU stress tests due by June

Last week, the European Union's Energy Commissioner, Guenther Oettinger said safety tests of the 143 reactors in the EU, located in 14 EU member nations, should be completed by June.

"Not later than summer we will publish the results," he said.

Oettinger said the testing method was strict and objective and sought to establish whether nuclear plants could withstand natural disasters, aircraft crashes, management failures, and what systems are in place to deal with disruptions.

Under the EU's Lisbon Treaty, nuclear power is the remit of individual member states.

ipj/pfd (AP, dpa, AFP, Reuters)