Japan. In February, Japan and India signed a free trade agreement that would, within a decade, mean duty free on 94% of the country’s commodities. According to Countryaah official site, the agreement mainly comprised textiles, cars, medicines and services, and it was expected that this would mean a large increase in trade between the countries, which showed a downward trend when the agreement was concluded. According to the World Trade Organization, the agreement would help Japan to boost economic growth. Japan needed new outlets for its goods as demand in the domestic market and exports had declined. In the fall of 2010, China had also taken over Japan’s place as the world’s second largest economy after the US.
On Friday, March 11, Japan suffered a natural disaster which overshadowed all the events in the country and characterized the development for a long time. A major earthquake, measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale, occurred in the Pacific Ocean, just 40 miles north of the capital Tokyo. The quake caused at least a 10-meter high tsunami wave that hit the east coast. The flood wave particularly affected the port city of Sendai. Boats, houses and cars were swept away by the water masses. At first, hundreds were feared to have been killed, but soon it was understood that it was about thousands. In addition, at least as many were missing.
Disaster permits were issued at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, just south of Sendai. It was suspected that the nuclear power plant was damaged. All residents within a two-mile radius of the facility were evacuated because of the radiation risk. Residents who lived within an additional mile radius were encouraged to stay indoors. In addition, fishing in the sea was prohibited within two miles radius from Fukushima. On March 12, reactor 1 exploded in the nuclear power plant and in the coming days another three reactors exploded. In addition, a fire and suspected meltdowns occurred in the plant.
On March 15, nearly 3,400 people were reported to have died in the quake and the subsequent tsunami. About 450,000 people, some of whom had their homes destroyed, had been evacuated to temporary shelters. The cost of material damage was estimated to be at least $ 300 billion. The disaster also meant reduced domestic demand and reduced production and export of cars, among other things. Some car manufacturers saw their production more than halved during the month of March due to a lack of components, which was due, among other things, to destroyed factories and a shortage of electricity after the disaster.
While the rescue work was continuing at Sendai, efforts were made to reduce the radioactive radiation from the nuclear power plant by cooling down the reactors with sea water after the plant’s cooling system had been destroyed during the earthquake. But despite the cooling, radioactivity leaked.
Immediately after the accident, Japanese experts said the accident was less serious than the Chernobyl nuclear accident in what was then the Soviet Union in 1986. But one month after the disaster, when more measurements were made, the Japanese radiation safety authority NISA Fukushima accident upgraded to the highest international level, the INS scale. This made the nuclear accident comparable to that in Chernobyl, although the Japanese authorities pointed out that it might not be quite as serious. The measured levels of the radioactive substances iodine-131 and cesium-137 were smaller in Fukushima than in Chernobyl, but more people were affected by the radiation as the area around Fukushima was more densely populated than that around Chernobyl. In addition, measurements showed that in Fukushima, unlike Chernobyl, there were large amounts of cesium-134,
Work to stop the radioactive emissions from the nuclear power plant was expected to continue for several months. It was expected to take several years before the authorities would know how serious the accident really was and disagreements among researchers from different countries. Pending the investigation of the Fukushima accident, Japan shut down two-thirds of the country’s 54 nuclear reactors, which posed a risk of electricity shortages.
Radioactivity was measured in the sea, drinking water and agricultural land as well as in vegetables, milk and meat from the area around the Fukushima nuclear power plant. One month after the accident, tens of thousands of people were evacuated from the area. At the end of April, the authorities set up a two-mile ban zone around the nuclear power plant because it was discovered that some 60 families remained in the evacuation zone. Because of the great health risks, it was forbidden to stay there and the ban was expected to apply for several years.
In early May, the lower house and upper house of Japan’s parliament approved a $ 49 billion disaster budget. The money would be used to build houses for those who lost their homes and to support companies affected by the earthquake and tsunami. The disaster was a severe economic slump for Japan, which even before had the world’s highest government debt per capita.
According to police reports, around 14,700 people had died in the disaster and nearly 11,000 were still missing in early May.
A delegation from the United Nations Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which visited Japan in early June, said the Japanese authorities had underestimated the risk of a tsunami hitting a coastal nuclear power plant. However, the delegation was satisfied with the authorities’ “exemplary” actions following the disaster. Prime Minister Naoto Kan had previously been criticized by both the opposition and his own government coalition for his way of dealing with the disaster. The opposition took the initiative of a vote of no confidence in him in Parliament, which was carried out in early June. May passed the vote because he had promised his critics to resign as soon as the worst crisis was over for the country and when he had passed a second disaster budget in Parliament. The reason for the criticism against Kan was that after the disaster he had become a tough nuclear opponent who spoke warmly for renewable energy, which made him unpopular among electricity companies and politicians. The criticism also applied to the country’s economic problems.
In the vote, Kan had been in power for almost a year and he was the fifth prime minister in five years. Assessors warned that he would become a “lame duck”, that is, in practice, powerless until he resigns. To end the criticism, Kan created a new post as Reconstruction Minister and put Ryu Matsumoto on the post. But in early July, after just a week in the post, Matsumoto resigned after receiving strong criticism for dealing with the politicians in the disaster-stricken area in an insensitive way.
At the end of July, Parliament approved the government’s proposal for an additional budget for reconstruction following the natural disaster. The budget was approximately US $ 25 billion and would be used to rebuild houses and to compensate the victims of the nuclear accident that followed in the wake of the natural disaster.
On August 26, Prime Minister Kan announced his planned departure. Three days later, the ruling party elected former finance minister Yoshihiko Noda as its new leader, and the following day the parliament’s lower house voted him in as the country’s sixth prime minister in five years.
In early September, Noda presented the new government. After just over a week, Trade Minister Yoshio Hachiro resigned after being criticized for insensitivity when he called Fukushima the death city. He was replaced by Yukio Edano, who was the government spokesman after the earthquake and tsunami.
At the beginning of September at least 19 people died and over 50 were missing since the typhoon Talas advanced across the western and central parts of Japan.
At the beginning of December, radioactive cesium was detected in infant milk powder. Although the quantities found were below the authorities’ limit values, the manufacturer recalled 400,000 cans of milk powder, which had been manufactured in a factory just over 30 km from Fukushima. Previously, cesium had been detected in foods such as beef and rice.
In mid-December, Prime Minister Noda announced that the situation at the Fukushima nuclear power plant was under control. The damaged reactors had been closed by a “cold shutdown” and thus the position at the nuclear power plant was stated to be stable. The government also said that it would take up to 40 years to safely disassemble the nuclear power plant and clean up its surroundings. The evacuation zone on a two-mile radius around Fukushima remained.
At the end of December, a preliminary report came from the commission appointed by the government in May to investigate the management of the disaster. The independent export panel strongly criticized both the nuclear power industry and the authorities for failing to prepare for the disaster and for managing the disaster so badly that it worsened. A final report was expected in 2012.