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Quake disaster-hit Japan 'is back'

One year after the biggest earthquake on record to rock Japan, the country is back on its feet and open for business.

That is the message from a government anxious to limit the physical and psychological scars left by the apocalyptic scenes of last March.

The 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami devastated Japan's north-eastern coast, killing thousands of people and triggering a crisis at a nuclear power plant.

Whole towns were swept away, hundreds of thousands of residents made homeless, and ports, oil refineries, steel plants and factories knocked out of action. But the recovery is "right on track" and "a lot of progress has been made", according to Minister Hiroshi Suzuki.

Mr Suzuki, director of the Japan Information and Cultural Centre at the Japanese Embassy in London, spoke of how the region's infrastructure was gradually being pieced back together. "Roads, railways and ports, lifelines like electricity, have made a steady recovery," he said.

The reconstruction effort was, in turn, helping the economy bounce back, he added. Following the disaster Japan's government estimated the cost of rebuilding over the next decade at £190 billion, of which £160 billion is earmarked for spending in the first five years - a designated "intensive recovery period". The money is being raised through taxes - four supplementary budgets were held last year - but the country is also keen for foreign input.

"We're encouraging investment from overseas," Mr Suzuki said. "To attract from the international community more investment and more trade is essential. Japan remains open for business and travel so I hope Britons will visit."

Meanwhile, the clear-up of the Fukushima nuclear disaster will take decades, experts warned ahead of the first anniversary of the devastating Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant was rocked by explosions and damage to the reactors after systems failed in the face of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent 14 metre tsunami in north east Japan.

A year on, workers have managed to get the reactors into a "stable cold shutdown state", but it may be a decade before they can get into the reactors themselves and fully decommissioning the site will take 30 to 40 years, experts said.

Leeds University's head of radiation protection Dr Ian Haslam, raised concerns about the contaminated water which has been used to cool the reactors and appears to have been stored in containment ponds which are rapidly filling up. "If they are filling up, they're going to have to empty them sometime. Where are they going to go? It's going to have to go in the sea."

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