Japan marks anniversary of March 2011 earthquake

People across Japan remembered the thousands of lives lost when a massive earthquake and tsunami struck along the northern Pacific coast twelve years ago. The disaster triggered a nuclear catastrophe, which remains unresolved.

Daigaku Toshihiko, a survivor in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, lost five of his relatives: his wife, parents, brother and nephew. The tsunami swept away his parents' home and his own. He returns to the scene, filled with memories of his family, on the eleventh day of every month.

He said, "I put my hands together and pray that my deceased family members will protect us. I told them that twelve years have passed quickly, and everyone is doing well."

Igarashi Hideko, a survivor in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, said, "In my heart, I still can't forget the experience we went through. But I feel I can finally accept what happened, twelve years later."

Kawato Hiroaki, a survivor in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, said, "We always have to keep in mind how to evacuate in case of another disaster. We shouldn't forget what happened."

The magnitude 9.0 quake struck at 2:46 PM on March 11, 2011, generating tsunami waves more than ten meters tall. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was engulfed, causing a triple meltdown.

Authorities say the toll of those confirmed dead or missing has topped twenty-two thousand. This total includes people who died in the years following the disaster, from health problems or causes related to it.

Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to evacuate, and more than thirty thousand of them were still displaced as of last month.

Twelve years on, over three hundred square kilometers of land near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is still classified as a "difficult-to-return" zone. People waiting to move back to these areas face an uncertain future.

Last year, nuclear regulators said treated and diluted water from the plant will be released into the ocean. The water has been pumped in to cool molten fuel. It mixes with rain and groundwater that has seeped into the damaged reactor buildings.

Japan's government says most radioactive substances have been filtered out. Some of the hydrogen isotope tritium remains, but its concentration will be lowered to one-seventh of the World Health Organization's standards for drinking water.

The release is scheduled to begin in spring or summer. But local fishery industries are against the plan, and some people in other countries have also expressed concern.