TOKYO, Japan — It may appear unseemly to speculate about what kind of Japan will emerge from the devastation of March 11.
Less than three months have passed since one of the biggest earthquakes on record triggered a tsunami that killed an estimated 24,000 people and laid waste to vast stretches of the northeast coast.
The crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant is far from over. At best, the facility’s damaged reactors won’t be brought under control until early next year, according to its operator, Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO).
In the unlikely event that TEPCO meets its deadline for “cold shutdown,” the operation to decontaminate the complex and decommission reactors could take a decade. The 80,000 people who have been forced to evacuate due to high radiation levels have no idea when, or if, they will be able to return permanently.
About 100,000 victims of Japan’s unprecedented triple disaster are still living in emergency shelters, cooped up in school gymnasiums, their privacy protected by “walls” crafted out of cardboard boxes. For those who have braved a return to the coast to salvage what little is left of their lives pre-tsunami, public discourse about
national regeneration must seem premature.
Yet amid the destruction and uncertainty, a faint outline of the future is emerging. The blueprint for post-disaster Japan encompasses myriad themes: town-planning, deregulation, free trade, welfare, politics and energy policy.
How will the Fukushima accident affect Japan’s postwar enthusiasm for nuclear energy? What will the new towns in the disaster zone look like? Where will they be built?
Fukushima is already altering the direction of energy policy in Japan’s and several other countries that once hailed nuclear power as a clean, safe means of cutting CO2 emissions.
Last week the prime minister, Naoto Kan, signaled a dramatic shift when he announced plans to generate 20 percent of Japan’s electricity using renewables by 2020, a decade ahead of schedule. Clean energy, Kan said ahead of the G8 summit in Deauville, France, would become “one of [our] society’s core energy sources.”