Japan earthquake: Why the Asian nation will rebound from temblor and tsunami
The Japan earthquake and tsunami will take years to recover from. But few peoples are as resilient and socially cohesive as the Japanese.
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Yet other natural disasters are an imperfect gauge of how long it might take Japan to recover, since it is the first to confront three crises at once: quake, tsunami, and nuclear emergency. "We've never had anything like this," says David Neal, director of the Center for the Study of Disasters and Extreme Events at Oklahoma State University.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Japan's 9.0 earthquake
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Cleaning up the Fukushima nuclear facility alone will be a formidable task. Even if the situation at the site were to stabilize from here, at least three of the six reactors at the site have been lost. If the Japanese were to decide to dismantle the stricken units, the process, based on the lesson of Three Mile Island, in Pennsylvania, could take up to two years. "Decommissioning is a very, very big job," says Charles Forsberg, a nuclear expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. "It's like building a reactor itself."
The Japanese will also face disruptions to the economy. All the country's big automakers have temporarily shut down manufacturing, in part because of a shortage of parts from damaged plants in the north. Many quake-hit electronics plants have suspended operations as well. Shipping ports in northeastern Japan suffered damage, and many foreign and domestic companies interrupted business as workers fled possible radiation leaks.
Yet many economists expect the overall damage to the economy to be minimal. "The direct economic impact of the disaster is extremely limited," says Martin Schulz, an analyst at the Fujitsu Research Institute in Tokyo. A steel mill, two oil refineries, and some factories were impaired, but the region where the quake and tsunami hit accounts for only 6 percent of Japan's economy. The huge industrial belt in central and southern Japan is intact, and though many factories are still closed, they will probably reopen when transportation links are restored.
The Kobe earthquake, which cost almost as much as this one is expected to, "did not cause even a blip on the economic statistics," Mr. Schulz recalls, and he does not expect more than a marginal drop in this year's growth rate, predicted before the disaster to be 1.5 percent. Next year the huge investment that will be needed to rebuild homes, bridges, roads, and railways damaged by the quake and tsunami might even boost GDP growth a little.
On the political front, the government, which was on the point of falling a week ago, has benefited from the pulling together that often accompanies a national emergency. While there has been sharp criticism over its lack of candor surrounding the nuclear debacle and concern about the slowness of getting relief supplies to the north, national crises provide an opportunity for leaders to rally a nation, and their own fortunes, though risks lurk if it isn't done right. "With the crisis, the opposition parties cannot criticize the government, and for the time being this has rescued them," says Eisuke Sakakibara, a former finance minister.