On Dec. 16, 2011, Japanese prime minister Yoshihiko Noda declared that the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant has reached a stable state of "cold shutdown," and is no longer leaking substantial amounts of radiation. The announcement comes just over nine months after the March 11 tsunami forced three reactors at the plant into meltdowns in the worst nuclear crisis since Chornobyl.

Meanwhile, residents on Canada's west coast are reporting debris washing up on their shores that appears to have made the trip from Japan. Plastic water bottles with Japanese labels and pieces of wood have come ashore near Tofino, on Vancouver Island.

In early December, traces of radiation spilled from Japan's hobbled nuclear plant were detected in baby formula in the latest case of contaminated food in the nation. The levels of cesium-134 and cesium-137 in the milk were up to 31 becquerels per kilogram, which is below the government limit of 200 becquerels per kilo. Major food and candy maker Meiji Co. said it was recalling canned powdered milk for infants as a precaution.

Japan's economy grew for the first time in four quarters as the country recovers from the earthquake and tsunami disaster. The world's No. 3 economy expanded at an annualized rate of 6 per cent in the July-September period, driven by exports, the Cabinet Office said in a preliminary report Nov. 14. The country has steadily fixed its factories and benefited from pent-up demand for Japanese goods such as cars.

Since the earthquake, the country's central bank has pumped more than $1 trillion US into the financial system to stabilize markets. Considered a safe haven, the Japanese currency has hit record highs against the dollar this year amid intensifying worries about Europe and the U.S. The International Monetary Fund estimates Japan's economy will expand 2.3 per cent next year — the strongest growth forecast among the Group of Seven countries including the U.S., U.K. and Germany.

Reactor

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A deserted street inside the contaminated exclusion zone around the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is seen from bus windows in Fukushima prefecture on Nov. 12, 2011. (Reuters)

Radioactive cesium above government safety limits has been detected in rice outside the exclusion zone around the Fukushima nuclear plant, in a district about 60 kilometres west of Fukushima City, Japan, reports say. Japanese broadcaster NHK reported on Nov. 17 that Fukushima prefecture has asked all 154 farmers in the district to suspend rice shipments.

Radioactive particles associated with nuclear fission have been detected at Japan's tsunami-damaged atomic power plant, officials said Nov. 2, suggesting one of the reactors could have a new problem. Gas from inside the Fukushima plant's No. 2 reactor indicated the presence of radioactive xenon, which could be the byproduct of unexpected nuclear fission. Boric acid was injected through a cooling pipe as a precaution because it can counteract nuclear reactions.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said there was no rise in the reactor's temperature or pressure. The company said the radioactive materials had not reached the point when nuclear reactions are self-sustaining and the detection of the xenon would have no major impact on workers' efforts to keep the reactor cool and stable.

VIDEO SERIES: Japan's recovery

Paul Hunter and his CBC News team travel Japan and document how the country is coping and recovering from the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

On May 26, people from the region around the nuclear plant who have been kept from their homes since March 11 were given two hours to return to their dwellings and collect some of their belongings. They are still not allowed to return home permanently due to fears of radioactive contamination.

A senior nuclear adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan resigned April 30, criticizing the government for ignoring his advice on radiation limits and not doing enough to deal with the crisis at the plant. Toshiso Kosako said the government's 20-millisievert limit for radiation exposure is too high, especially for children. In a statement, Kan's administration called the resignation "unfortunate" and said the government has always followed the advice of the country's nuclear safety commission.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company, the utility that runs the nuclear plant, has offered 20 million yen (about $228 million) in "apology money" to every town and city in the 20 kilometre mandatory evacuation zone around the plant. Japan's nuclear safety agency has said it could take months to bring the situation at Fukushima under control. 

Earthquake and Tsunami

The event: The biggest earthquake to hit Japan since officials began keeping records in the late 1800s struck off the country's northeast coast March 11 at 2:46 p.m. local time. It was at first designated a magnitude 8.9 and later raised to 9.0. It triggered a tsunami that swallowed homes, swept away cars and boats and forced people to scramble to higher ground.

Earthquake Map


The epicentre of the Japan earthquake and areas affected by the tremors and tsunami.

Where: The original quake struck at a depth of 24 kilometres about 125 kilometres off the northeastern coast of Japan. The massive wave it triggered swamped dikes in Japan's northeast, leaving a massive trail of debris. Cities and villages along the 2,100-kilometre stretch of coastline were shaken by violent tremors that reached as far away as Tokyo, hundreds of kilometres from the quake's epicentre.

Casualties: More than 15,000 people have been confirmed dead while another 8,500 are unaccounted for, according to the country's National Police Agency.

Aftershocks: The initial quake was followed by hundreds of aftershocks — including a 7.1-magnitude shock on April 7, 2011, that ripped through northeastern Japan and killed three people. The 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast about 65 kilometres from Sendai, and a tsunami warning was issued but later lifted.

Nuclear risk: The earthquake and subsequent tsunami damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, knocking out power to its cooling systems. That affected the fuel rods in some of the plant's six reactors and in the pools where spent but still-radioactive fuel rods are stored, setting off a series of hydrogen explosions that caused further damage.

On April 12, the government boosted the severity level of the crisis to seven, the highest rating on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale and on par with the 1986 Chornobyl disaster.

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The remains of the upper part of the No.3 reactor building at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant are seen from a bus window on Nov. 12, 2011. (Kyodo/Reuters)

A Japanese government panel said Oct. 30 that it will take at least 30 years to safely close the tsunami-hobbled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, even though the facility is leaking far less radiation than before and is considered relatively stable.

Initial local reaction: Japan's government initially sent 100,000 troops and other personnel to the affected areas, including 9,500 firefighters and 920 police officers. The Japanese Red Cross has deployed 95 medical teams, with a total of 735 people, including doctors and nurses. Unlike in the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, the government was also quick to accept foreign help, and several countries have sent aid teams. It is expected to cost upwards of $300 billion US to repair the damage.

Global impact: The shutdown of plants in Japan caused shortages of finished products like cars and electronics, but also a shortage of parts that was still being felt by manufacturing plants around the world nine months later.

Social media

  • Google Maps mashup shows a random, real-time selection of tweets originating in different areas in Japan. It was developed by Virender Ajmani, a software developer based in Detroit.

More CBC News feature coverage:

With files from AP