7 Years Later, a Tale of 2 Walls in Tsunami-ravaged Japan

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March 11, 2018

Seven years behind a massive earthquake and tsunami struck Japan and killed nearly 18,000 people, parts of the rebuilt country now are now behind very tall concrete walls designed to prevent a repeat disaster.

Concrete walls along Japan's coast

The March 11, 2011 disaster generated powerfully driven waves that had little trouble smashing through the existing 13-foot wall. In the space where that breakwater once sat is now a 41-foot-high wall made of concrete that government officials will hold back the angry seas created by the next tsunami. A total of 245 miles of concrete walls have been built.

Behind the walls, on land, people are still rebuilding, coming up against in some cases regulations preventing new construction in low-lying coastal areas. And although many people acknowledge that the construction of the concrete walls should have taken priority, some are still critical of the pace at which other construction, namely housing and town construction. The combination earthquake-tsunami displaced hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom have not returned.

Another set of walls, those built to keep radiation-contaminated water from seeping into the ground surrounding the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant–site of a nuclear meltdown in the days following the quake–have been doing their job, for the most part; but they were built in order to keep all contaminated water away from the rest of civilization. Recently, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) said that their efforts to seal off the contamination might take until 2020. Efforts to remove the Fukushima plant's damaged reactors and the other nuclear debris must wait until then, Tepco said.

As well, recent tests at the Fukushima plant recorded lethal levels of radiation, at a time when Tepco has accelerated its hiring in order to facilitate the ongoing cleanup.

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David White