One year on: How can we measure Japan’s recovery?
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One year on: How can we measure Japan’s recovery?

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A group of monks pray during the anniversary of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake. Picture: H.MASA/Flikr

At 2.46pm Japan stopped everything – even its trains, the arteries of the nation – to remember the disaster that occurred one year ago.

But as Japan fell silent, the world’s media returned. And this time their words have not been as sympathetic.

Fly-in, fly-out stories have been filed from areas with the most visual destruction, turning the fishing trawler in the middle of a Kesennuma rice paddy into a symbol of Japan’s seemingly unmoving recovery process.

Earlier this month, the International Red Cross said that the past year had been “wasted” because various levels of governments had not introduced a common recovery plan.

“The central government has proposed different scenarios, but they were met with strong opposition from local governments and also people affected directly by the earthquake and tsunami,” Japanese Red Cross President Tadateru Konoe told Reuters.

“Without reaching any agreement on a master plan for rehabilitation and reconstruction, it’s very difficult to even start a reconstruction process. I think the first thing is to hasten this process, then they can mobilize.

“I think that should be the very start of everything. So one year has been wasted in that sense because they haven’t been able to reach any consensus.”

But as we step back from the flattened, deserted, Martian-like landscape that North Eastern Japan has become, you have to wonder: How quickly did we expect the debris to be cleared; the towns to be rebuilt; the radioactive waste to be destroyed?

Japan is a small country whose mountainous backbone has left it with an area smaller than California of arable land. Where are they going to put all this radioactive soil? Where can the debris from the tsunami go?

On the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, Environment Minister, Goshi Hosono, has finally proposed storage sites for Fukushima’s contaminated soil and debris.

Three towns within Fukushima Prefecture – Futaba, Okuma and Naraha – have been sited as potential soil storage areas while Tomioka would be used to store the ashes of burnt debris.

The long awaited meeting is the first time representatives from Japan’s central government, Fukushima prefecture and the seven towns closes to the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant have discussed a recovery plan for the area.

But an end to Japan’s nuclear disaster still seems a long way off.

Under the government’s plan, the location of the storage facilities will not be decided for another year, with relocation work not beginning until the beginning of 2015.

2015 sounds like a long way off for those of us further removed from the disaster, but Mayors at the meeting were reserved about the time frame, saying it seemed to be trying to achieve too much, too fast.

Okuma Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe told Mainichi Daily News: “The process places more importance on speed than quality.”

Commentators and armchair pundits compare Fukushima’s nuclear disaster to Chernobyl. And on their surface it seems a fair comparison.

But Japan is a much smaller country with far greater population density than Russia. The political and economic situations of the two are entirely different and so too are the expectations – placed on Japan both from within and from other countries.

How can we really measure how fast the clean up “should” be happening? And how will we know if it is every truly completed?

From the outside looking in, it’s easy to blame Japan’s dysfunctional government for their slow progress. But perhaps for the time being, we should be supportive of any progress being made at all.