• Jiji, Kyodo

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Fukushima Prefecture on Sunday opened a museum about the massive March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster in a bid to pass down memories of the calamity to future generations.

The Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum, located in the town of Futaba, also shows through its exhibitions people's efforts to rebuild their lives after the natural disaster and the meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which straddles Futaba and the town of Okuma.

"I hope visitors will come to know how Fukushima faced up to the unprecedented disaster and achieved reconstruction," Noboru Takamura, director of the museum, said in an address to people who were lined up outside the museum ahead of its opening.

"By actively sending out information and inviting more people from outside the prefecture, the museum will hopefully contribute to the vitalization of this region," the director added.

About 1,050 people visited on opening day.

The prefectural government collected some 240,000 items of disaster-related materials and selected about 170 items to be put on display at the museum. Videos showing the scenes of destruction and stories by those who experienced the disaster are also displayed at the museum.

"I could see how people's normal lives changed all of a sudden and have remained that way for a long time," said a high school teacher from Chiba Prefecture, who visited the museum with her students. "After I go back, I want to think about disaster mitigation together with my students."

The opening of the museum was originally set for this summer but was postponed due to the spread of the coronavirus.

An exhibit shows a model of the damaged Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant at The Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum in Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, on Sunday. | KYODO
An exhibit shows a model of the damaged Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant at The Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum in Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, on Sunday. | KYODO

The three-story museum comprises six sections, starting with a theater with large screens that introduces the lives of locals before the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters hit on March 11, 2011, how residents evacuated and the ensuing efforts to decommission the stricken reactors and rebuild affected areas.

With a total area of 5,300 square meters, the other zones are laid out in chronological order with exhibits including memorials and resident accounts. Twenty-nine locals will give first-person accounts of the period at the museum.

Also among the exhibits is a whiteboard with handwritten radioactive iodine level data that had been moved from a now-defunct prefectural nuclear power center located about 5 kilometers west of the Fukushima No. 1 plant that gathered radiation data for three days after the nuclear catastrophe.

Protective clothing and bags used to store waste generated in the prolonged decontamination efforts are also on display.

"I was taken back to the time immediately after the accident and felt emotionally distressed," said visitor Kichio Ito, 78, who now lives in Koriyama in the prefecture after fleeing from Futaba.

The opening of the museum has not come without criticism, however, with some pointing out that it does not sufficiently highlight the failures of the government and Tepco in preventing the accident. Rather, it focuses uncritically on the disaster and aftermath.

To attract visitors from abroad, tablet devices are available and offer explanations in English, Chinese and Korean, according to the local government, which expects some 50,000 annual visitors. Tickets are ¥600 ($5.70) for adults and ¥300 for students.

In the Fukushima disaster, three reactors at the plant operated by Tepco suffered meltdowns and spewed radioactive materials into the air, forcing a mass evacuation of residents as flooding from the tsunami crippled the plant's cooling systems.

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