March 11, 2011 On a Friday afternoon six years ago, an earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale (later revised to 9.0) hit 80 miles off the east coast of Japan, triggering a 23-foot tsunami that damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, where three reactors melted down. The catastrophe that unfolded ultimately left more than 18,000 dead, at least 6,000 injured and tens of thousands displaced.
“Initial reports from the hardest-hit part of the country pointed to the monumental relief efforts ahead. Much of the northern city of Kesennuma was on fire. Japanese officials said they had lost contact with four trains. Local police reported that 200 to 300 bodies had already been found in one area of Sendai, the capital of Miyagi Prefecture and the population center closest to the quake’s epicenter,” The Washington Post’s Chico Harlan wrote in a front-page account that appeared the next day.
Despite the fact that the cleanup of the Fukushima site has taken far longer than expected, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been pushing to restart the reactors. But in February, Tokyo Electric Power Co., the utility that operated the nuclear power plant, determined radiation levels remained dangerously high, forcing it to remove a remote-controlled cleaning robot dispatched inside a damaged reactor.