The world marked the sixth anniversary of the disastrous nuclear meltdown at Fukushima, Japan on March 11. This catastrophe stands as the second worst nuclear incident in recorded history, after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Tens of thousands of Japanese civilians died in the destruction and lost their homes and livelihoods due to radiation contamination. The Washington Post says that clean-up costs have already exceeded $180 billion, and clean-up is still unfinished despite Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s optimism.
In a speech on the anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, Abe stated that most infrastructure has been restored in the affected areas, however, he made note of the continued displacement of 120,000 civilians who still cannot return to their homes. Fukushima residents felt that although Abe’s speech focused on the rebuilding efforts, the prime minister seemed out of touch with the reality many of them have experienced.
“The damage is ongoing, not in the past tense,” said Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori in a news conference according to The Japan Times.
This disconnect remains a point of contention in the politics of many East Asian countries, including Japan and Taiwan, where China Post reported that a massive anti-nuclear protest took place on the anniversary. The Taiwanese protest movement, though not entirely against nuclear power, demands further public discussion of the risks involved before its adoption on a larger scale, particularly with regards to the management of nuclear waste.
This movement against nuclear power stands in sharp contrast to Abe’s position on the matter. In his aforementioned speech, he failed to refer to Fukushima as a nuclear accident at all, inciting further ire from those affected by the disaster.
Elsewhere in the region, countries are taking an extreme tack in the opposite direction. Though the Fukushima meltdown contributed to the tsunami that overcame the reactor, India Times reported that China has embarked upon an initiative to construct floating nuclear power plants in the South China Sea, especially along several disputed islands. While these constructions would serve to provide additional energy to Chinese civilian populations on the mainland, they also serve as an aspect of Chinese naval strategy, providing greater power projection throughout the region. Naturally, such floating reactors also pose enormous risks should oceanic forces similar to those that usurped Fukushima occur again.
The political dispute surrounding nuclear power is unlikely to abate soon in East Asia, especially as further development of these potentially riskier technologies yields progress along with damages. Both sides may harden their resolve to either provide energy for as many citizens as possible or to avoid what they view as foolish risks.