March 11, 2011, was the day when Japan stood still. An earthquake of 9.1 magnitudes shook the country to its core and was marked as the fifth most powerful earthquake in the world. Within 30 minutes, Japan would experience a Tsunami followed by a nuclear disaster that would destroy almost everything in its way. The loss of life, economy, and everything the country stood for was immense, and Japan is still fighting to somehow recover it. Let us visit the day back in time and discover what happened in addition to how Japan is dealing with the consequences today.
The 9.1 earthquake that struck Japan on March 11, 2011, was something beyond the fifth most powerful earthquake ever recorded. It was just a warning sign; what followed was even bigger. Within 30 minutes, a 133-foot extremely powerful tsunami wave smashed against the northeastern shoreline of Japan. As a result, 2,500 people went missing, and 15,899 people died. Since the weather was unbearable and disturbed, rescue efforts were having a tough time reaching certain areas through transportation routes. It is recorded that around 470,000 people were displaced. Furthermore, the disaster destroyed 121, 991 buildings, swept 5 billion tons of debris into the ocean, and caused economic damage worth $210 billion.
Fukushima Nuclear Disaster
Only if the Tsunami had not caused enough damage, to make matters worse, it damaged the Fukushima Nuclear Plant as well. One can imagine the intensity of the waves as they caused radioactive leaks. The cooling system of three Fukushima Nuclear Plant reactors was cut off, which resulted in the cores melting to the ground in 72 hours. Considering the overall situation, the engineers found it difficult to fix the leaks, but they were successful after some time. However, this was just the first step. Now the engineers had to halt the emissions that spread in the surrounding area, which would take months to tackle.
The radiations spread across farms that included vegetables, fruits, and milk. It showed up for some time in drinking water as well, but the management was able to get rid of it. Furthermore, the radiations made their way into the Pacific Ocean, raising the sea level 4,000 times, more than the legal limit. The International Atomic Energy Agency classified the Fukushima disaster as level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale, meaning that it was put in the same category as that of the Chernobyl disaster. The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, as compared to Chernobyl, was only one-tenth as bad, which is another alarming proof of how huge the disaster was. However, in the case of Chernobyl, the radioactive waves made its way to Europe and continue to contaminate the areas today.
The Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear disaster combined affected Japan’s economy in four ways. First, as already mentioned, it caused the destruction of more than $161 billion, which was the cost estimate of Hurricane Katrina. The regions that were hit by the earthquake were responsible for 6%-7% of the country’s total production. According to the numbers, the loss due to the earthquake was more than the Great Hanshin earthquake that took place in 1995 and resulted in destruction worth $100 billion, along with 6,000 lives lost.
Second, it incurred a huge crack in the nuclear industry of Japan. Japan had 50 nuclear reactors at the time, and out of them, 11 were close immediately. This resulted in a drastic 40% cut in the production of electricity. The public’s outcry over the remaining functioning nuclear reactors forced the management to close 22 more nuclear reactors. By May 2011, the government had closed all of the nuclear reactors and continued with testing and reviewing the plants. This meant that Japan had to look for other ways to make up for the electricity production and hence started importing oil, which resulted in huge trade deficits. In April 2013, two plants were opened to operate until they were again shut down for maintenance in September 2013. On the other hand, the reactors gradually started opening in 2015.
Third, the Banks of Japan provided liquidity to prevent a total collapse of the financial markets. Even though it ensured stability but in the long run would prove to be harmful to the country, which was already struggling. While Japan slowly and steadily started rebuilding its economy, the total debt still outweighed the little progress made by the country. The national debt, even before the disaster struck, was double as compared to the annual economic output of Japan.
Lastly, Japan had already gone through 20 years of recession and deflation. Its road to recovery was still in progress when the Tsunami took place, further adding to the challenges faced by the country in terms of the economy. The massive national debt was one thing, but hyperinflation and a labor pool that was aging were another. Initially, it was thought that Japan could increase the pace of its rebuilding process by selling its treasuries to the US. However, this would only devalue the dollar and increase the import prices for US-Japan did not sell its treasuries and soon realized that it could finance its rebuilding program through taxation but primarily. It would have to look for secondary sources as well.
Effect on Global Growth
Japan’s temporary absence in the global market was sufficiently felt. It had a strong foothold in the market and was working with prominent companies and manufacturers like Apple and Boeing. It was manufacturing 20% of the world’s semiconductors that were used in Apple products and supplied the landing gears, wings, and other major components of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. In addition to that, several other manufacturing giants faced closure, such as Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, and Suzuki. Even Sony had to suspend its operations until the situation came back to normal.
Japan’s tragedy called for international assistance, and in the wake of the circumstances, 128 countries, along with 33 international organizations, offered assistance. Countries such as China and France started evacuating its citizens, and Austria shifted its embassy some 400 Km away from the radiation site. The US sent 19 naval vessels and 120 aircraft to accompany the Japanese military, while donations from around the globe rained in to offer condolences and respect for those who lost their lives.
According to the statistics of 2019, 52,000 evacuees are still residing in temporary housing, whereas 100,000 between 2016 and 2018 had been shifted to permanent buildings. More than 90% of public buildings were rebuilt and completed. The Fukushima nuclear plants will take somewhere around 30 to 40 years to fully decommission the highly radioactive rays in the surrounding area. The presence of these radioactive rays makes the process of recovery complicated.
As Japan continues to rebuild itself, it is a matter of time until it can fully stand on its feet. Today, Japan has returned to the international market and is working day and night to progress. Moreover, schools and major manufacturing companies are up and running. Japan’s motivation to walk out of the crisis is a lesson for everyone. Not only does it give hope but guarantees a prosperous future as well.