Japan Data

Six-Month Timeline Since the Great East Japan Earthquake


On March 11, 2011 a massive earthquake and tsunami struck the northeast of Japan. While the people of Japan responded calmly to the disaster and private-sector companies were quick to take part in recovery efforts, the government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) were widely criticized for a sluggish and ineffective response. This timeline looks back on the half year since the disaster, with a focus on the government response to the nuclear disaster.

March 11–12

DateFukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster and TEPCOGovernment ResponseOther Developments
March 11 The earthquake hits. The Unit 1, 2, and 3 reactors shut down automatically (Unit 4, 5, and 6 reactors had been shut down for regular maintenance). The tsunami knocks out the power supply for the Unit 1–4 reactors. 2:46 p.m. The Great East Japan Earthquake occurs.  
3:14 p.m. The government sets up an Emergency Disaster Response Headquarters.
5:00 p.m. Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio states in a press conference that “no radiation has been leaked as of the current moment.”
7:03 p.m. A nuclear emergency situation is declared. A Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters is set up in the Kantei (Prime Minister’s Official Residence).
7:42 p.m. Cabinet Secretary Edano states that there is “no need for residents near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station to immediately take any special measures.”
9:23 p.m. In a press conference, Prime Minister Kan Naoto calls for residents within a 3km radius of the Fukushima plant to evacuate and for residents within a 10km radius to remain indoors.
9:50 p.m. Cabinet Secretary Edano states in a press conference that the “evacuation instructions are a precautionary measure” and that “there is no present danger.”
March 12 Fuel rods in the Unit 1 reactor are partially exposed as water levels drop. A delay in venting steam from the reactor results in a hydrogen explosion in Unit 1 that blows away the upper part of the reactor building. Work begins to pump seawater into the Unit 1 reactor. 12:15 a.m. Prime Minister Kan and US President Barack Obama hold a meeting via telephone. Aftershock with a seismic intensity of Upper 6 hits Sakae, Nagano Prefecture.
5:44 a.m. Evacuation zone is extended to a 10km radius of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.
7:11 a.m. Prime Minister Kan observes conditions at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station from a Ground Self-Defense Force helicopter.
9:55 a.m. The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency indicates that a meltdown may have occurred.
6:25 p.m. Evacuation instructions are extended to cover a 20km radius of the plant.
7:55 p.m. Prime Minister Kan issues instructions to inject seawater into the reactors (it later emerges that confusion reigned in the period leading up to this decision).

March 13–May 11

DateFukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster and TEPCOGovernment ResponseOther Developments
March 13 In the Unit 3 reactor, the supply of cooling water stops following battery failure. The Japan Meteorological Agency amends its assessment of the severity of the earthquake from magnitude 8.8 to magnitude 9.0. An announcement is made that the number of Self-Defense Force troops dispatched to deal with the disaster will be increased to 100,000. Prime Minister Kan announces that rolling blackouts will begin on the following day. Cabinet Secretary Edano admits the risk of a hydrogen explosion in the Unit 3 reactor, but denies that a meltdown has occurred. US military forces stationed in Japan begin Operation Tomodachi to assist the relief effort in the north of Japan.
March 14 A hydrogen explosion at Unit 3 destroys the upper part of the reactor building. In Unit 2, fuel rods are completely exposed above water. After the hydrogen explosion in the Unit 3 reactor, Cabinet Secretary Edano announces that “the containment vessel remains intact” and denies the possibility that large quantities of radioactive materials have been dispersed. Mass confusion hits the Tokyo transportation system as a result of power outages implemented by TEPCO. The Nikkei closing average falls below ¥10,000. Services resume on the Sendai Subway.
March 15 An explosion is heard from Unit 2. Fire breaks out in the spent fuel pool in Unit 4. Prime Minister Kan visits the TEPCO head office in Tokyo. The government and TEPCO establish a Government-TEPCO Integrated Response Office. The Nikkei average falls below ¥9,000. Tōhoku Electric Power Company begins to implement rolling blackouts. An earthquake with a seismic intensity of Upper 6 hits eastern Shizuoka Prefecture, injuring 29 people.
March 16 White smoke billows from Unit 3. Plans to use three Ground Self-Defense Force helicopters to dump water on the reactor from the air are abandoned. In his morning press conference, Cabinet Secretary Edano indicates that the containment vessels at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Station may have been damaged, but amends this statement in his afternoon press conference. The Emperor addresses the nation via a video message.
March 17 Two Ground Self-Defense Force helicopters drop 7.5 tons of water on Units 2 and 3. Self-Defense Force fire trucks pump water into the reactors from ground level. Prime Minister Kan and US President Obama hold a meeting via telephone. Sengoku Yoshito, former chief cabinet secretary, returns to the Kantei as deputy chief cabinet secretary. Relief supplies successfully landed at Sendai Airport thanks to assistance provided by the US Army.
March 18 Self-Defense Force fire trucks continue to spray water into the Unit 3 reactor. High-pressure pumps supplied by the US Army are also used. Law introduced to postpone municipal elections. Provisional assessment describes the situation in Units 1–3 as a “Level 5” event on the International Nuclear Event Scale. This is the same level as the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in the United States. Rolling blackouts are averted. Mizuho Bank’s computer network fails; this may have been caused by the overwhelming number of donations sent to people affected by the March 11 disaster.
March 19 Water is sprayed into the Unit 3 reactor using height-refraction water cannon fire engines belonging to the Tokyo Fire Department. Prime Minister Kan invites Liberal Democratic Party President Tanigaki Sadakazu to join the cabinet, but the offer is turned down.  
March 20 An external electrical power supply is connected to the Unit 2 reactor.   Nine days after the earthquake and tsunami, an 80-year-old woman and 16-year-old boy are rescued from a collapsed house.
March 21   Shipping restrictions are placed on spinach and kakina (a locally produced leaf vegetable) from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, and Gunma Prefectures, and on raw milk from Fukushima Prefecture.  
March 22 Lighting is restored in the central control room at the Unit 3 reactor. All six reactors are now reconnected to electricity. Radioactive material is detected in seawater close to the water outlet of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. Cabinet Secretary Edano insists that this level of radiation poses no damage to health, even if consumed continually for a year. The Nikkei average recovers to ¥9,500. Services resume on the Tōhoku Shinkansen bullet train line between Morioka and Shin-Aomori.
March 23   Restrictions are placed on the shipment and consumption of leafy vegetables and broccoli/cauliflower grown in Fukushima Prefecture. The Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan announces the results of calculations on the dispersal of radioactive materials made using the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information (SPEEDI).  
March 24 Lighting is restored in the central control room at the Unit 1 reactor. Three workers suffer radiation exposure when they step in puddles of water that have accumulated in the Unit 3 reactor building. The government announces the postponement of the spring ceremony for bestowing Japan’s Medals of Honor, scheduled for April 29.  
March 25 Pumping of fresh water into the reactor buildings begins. The government issues a request for residents to evacuate voluntarily from areas within 20 and 30 km of the plant.  
March 26      
March 27      
March 28      
March 29   The budget for fiscal 2011 is enacted.  
March 30 TEPCO announces that the Unit 1–4 reactors at Fukushima will be decommissioned. Prime Minister Kan and US President Obama hold a meeting via telephone. The Emperor and Empress visit an evacuee center in Tokyo.
March 31   Prime Minister Kan meets French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Kantei. Services resume on the Yamagata Shinkansen bullet train line.
April 1 A chemical agent is sprayed to prevent the spread of radioactive materials. Prime Minister Kan announces the establishment of the Reconstruction Design Council. The government officially designates the March 11 disaster the “Great East Japan Earthquake.”  
April 2 Highly radioactive water is discovered to have leaked into the ocean from cracks in the Unit 2 reactor. Prime Minister Kan visits the disaster area in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, and inspects the front-line base for responding to the nuclear disaster in Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture.  
April 3      
April 4 Water contaminated with low levels of radiation is released into the sea around the power station for the first time. The Japan Meteorological Agency announces its predictions for the diffusion of radioactive substances. Auctions at the fish market in Shiogama, Miyagi Prefecture take place for the first time since the March 11 disaster.
April 5   The government announces that it will establish the same provisional standard (2,000 becquerels of radioactive iodine) for seafood as is already in place for vegetables.  
April 6 The leaking of radioactive water into the sea from the Unit 2 reactor is blocked by pouring a fast-hardening glassy liquid containing sodium silicate into the cracks in the reactor. Cabinet Secretary Edano acknowledges the government failed to provide adequate explanation before releasing low-level radioactive water into the ocean from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. Services restored along the entirety of the JR Kamaishi Line.
April 7 Nitrogen gas is injected into the containment vessel in the Unit 1 reactor. TEPCO President Shimizu Masataka is released from hospital.   Magnitude 7.1 aftershock strikes off the coast of Miyagi Prefecture. Services on the Tōhoku Shinkansen bullet train line resume between Morioka and Ichinoseki.
April 8 TEPCO announces that, in principle, it will not continue to implement planned blackouts in the future. First meeting of the committee in charge of distributing donations made to the relief and recovery effort. The Emperor and Empress visit a center set up in Saitama Prefecture to house evacuees from the nuclear disaster area in Fukushima.
April 9 Results of a study reveal that the tsunami that struck the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station was 14 to 15 meters high.   The first evacuees begin moving into temporary housing in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture.
April 10   Prime Minister Kan observes conditions in Miyagi Prefecture. The first round of unified local elections are held, including elections to decide 12 prefectural governors. Ishihara Shintarō is elected Tokyo governor for the fourth time.
April 11 TEPCO President Shimizu Masataka travels to Fukushima Prefecture for the first time since the March 11 disaster, but Governor Satō Yūhei refuses to meet him. The Reconstruction Design Council is launched.  
April 12 Work begins to collect highly radioactive water. The status of the accident is raised to a Level 7 event on the International Nuclear Events Scale. Services resume on the Tōhoku Shinkansen bullet train line between Nasushiobara and Fukushima.
April 13 TEPCO confirms partial damage to the fuel rods in the Unit 4 spent fuel pool. The company announces its readiness to pay provisional compensation of ¥1 million per household.   Passenger flights partially resumed at Sendai Airport.
April 14 Silt fences are constructed in six places to control the water intake at the Unit 2 reactor. First meeting of the Reconstruction Design Council. The Emperor and Empress visit disaster areas in Asahi, Chiba Prefecture.
April 15 TEPCO announces it will be able to secure 52 million kilowatts of power by the end of July. Joint communiqué issued by G-20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors expresses their “solidarity with the Japanese people” and their “readiness to provide any needed cooperation.”  
April 16      
April 17 TEPCO announces a schedule for the second stage of the disaster-response process; expects the situation make take six to nine months to be brought under control. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Japan for meetings with Prime Minister Kan and Foreign Minister Matsumoto Takeaki.  
April 18      
April 19 Work begins on moving the highly radioactive water that has accumulated underground and in ditches inside the Unit 2 reactor. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology establishes radiation limits for outdoor activities in schools. Activities are restricted at 13 school facilities in Fukushima Prefecture.  
April 20      
April 21 Highly radioactive debris is found near the Unit 3 reactor. Prime Minister Kan observes conditions in Fukushima Prefecture. Time magazine includes Sakurai Katsunobu, the mayor of Minamisōma, Fukushima Prefecture, and Takeshi Kanno, a doctor in Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, in its “2011 Time 100” list of influential people.
April 22 TEPCO President Shimizu Masataka visits the Fukushima Prefectural Government building for the first time since the March 11 disaster and personally apologizes to Governor Satō. All areas within a 20km radius of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station are designated a “restricted zone” that people are prohibited to enter. Places where the cumulative radiation dose may have reached 20 millisieverts per year are designated “planned evacuation areas.”  
April 23      
April 24      
April 25 TEPCO cuts executive compensation by half, and also reduces the annual salaries of managers by 25% and of general employees by 20%. First meeting of the Government-TEPCO Integrated Response Office.  
April 26 A radiation level of 1,120 millisieverts per hour is detected inside the Unit 1 reactor, the highest level within the Fukushima reactors thus far.   25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
April 27   The government enacts a law providing special tax breaks for victims of the March 11 disaster; it marks the first law enacted thus far to assist disaster victims. The Emperor and Empress visit disaster areas in Miyagi Prefecture.
April 28      
April 29 The quantity of water injected into the Unit 1 reactor is reduced owing to the risk of a hydrogen explosion.   The Tōhoku Shinkansen bullet train resumes full operations between Tokyo and Aomori for the first time in 49 days.
April 30   Japanese and US foreign ministers meet in Washington DC; the two countries agree to work together to counter widespread public concern about the safety of Japanese products.  
May 1      
May 2   The first supplementary budget is enacted. New car sales drop 47% compared to the same month the previous year following the impact of the March 11 disaster.
May 3   The government finally releases 5,000 pieces of data on predicted radiation levels, collected using the SPEEDI national network of detectors. This information was available earlier but was not released to the public. China eases restrictions on travel to Japan.
May 4      
May 5 Workers enter the Unit 1 reactor for the first time since the nuclear accident, installing duct-pipes for ventilation.    
May 6   Prime Minister Kan calls for a complete shutdown of the reactors at the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station. The Emperor and Empress visit disaster areas in Iwate Prefecture.
May 7      
May 8      
May 9     Yielding to a request made by Prime Minister Kan, the Chūbu Electric Power Company decides to shut down all the reactors at its Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station.
May 10   The government postpones the decision on whether to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement. Evacuees from within a 20km radius of the Fukushima nuclear plant, designated a “restricted zone,” are allowed temporary home visits.
May 11 Highly radioactive water is found to have leaked into the ocean from the intake canal near the Unit 3 reactor.   The Emperor and Empress visit disaster areas in Fukushima Prefecture.

May 12–September 11

DateFukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster and TEPCOGovernment ResponseOther Developments
May 12      
May 13   The government agrees on a framework for using public funds to support TEPCO’s payment of compensation relating to the nuclear disaster.  
May 14   The Reconstruction Design Council presents its report with interim recommendations.  
May 15 It is announced that the Unit 1 reactor underwent meltdown 16 hours after the March 11 earthquake.   Planned evacuations begin in Iitate and Kawamata in Fukushima Prefecture.
May 16 It emerges that Unit 2 and 3 reactors may also have experienced a meltdown.    
May 17 A revised schedule for bringing the nuclear disaster under control is announced. The earlier idea of a “water tomb” solution is abandoned; the goal of achieving a cold shutdown within a six to nine months remains in place. The government announces a schedule for resolving the nuclear disaster; the plan calls for temporary housing to be available by the first half of August.  
May 18   Without consulting his cabinet, Prime Minister Kan announces at a press conference that the government will consider a legislation to separate responsibility for the generation and distribution of electricity. Over 100,000 people are said to have lost their jobs as a result of the earthquake and tsunami.
May 19      
May 20 TEPCO’s earnings report for March 2011 indicates a loss of over ¥1 trillion; President Shimizu Masataka announces he will step down and be replaced by Managing Director Nishizawa Toshio. A law is enacted allowing elections scheduled in the disaster areas to be postponed.  
May 21 Outdoor radiation levels of 1,000 millisieverts per hour, the highest so far, are detected at the south side of the Unit 3 reactor building. Prime Minister Kan, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visit a disaster area in the northeast of Japan.  
May 22   The leaders of Japan, China, and South Korea agree to work together to enhance nuclear safety and disaster prevention.  
May 23     A fact-finding mission from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) arrives in Japan to investigate the nuclear disaster.
May 24 Meltdowns are confirmed to have occurred 60 hours and 101 hours after the earthquake at the Unit 3 and Unit 2 reactors, respectively. A decision is taken to set up an investigative committee to study the Fukushima nuclear disaster.  
May 25      
May 26   The G8 Summit begins in Deauville, France. Japanese and US leaders agree to postpone Prime Minister Kan’s trip to the United States until September.  
May 27   Final day of the G8 Summit; leaders issue a joint declaration, including a call for improving the safety of nuclear energy. The IAEA fact-finding mission visits the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.
May 28      
May 29   The Reconstruction Design Council agrees on proposal of special reconstruction zones.  
May 30      
May 31 Operation begins of a device to cool the spent fuel pool of the Unit 2 reactor using recycled water. At a meeting of governors from around the country, Prime Minister Kan states that all nuclear reactors in Japan except those at the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station should resume operations.  
June 1   A vote of no-confidence is submitted by three opposition parties. The IAEA submits its report to the prime minister’s office.
June 2   Prime Minister Kan survives the no-confidence motion by indicating that he will step down, but in an evening press conference he rejects the idea of resigning right away.  
June 3      
June 4 High radiation levels of up to 4,000 millisieverts per hour are detected in the Unit 1 reactor.   Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife visit disaster areas in Miyagi Prefecture.
June 5      
June 6     The German government decides to phase out its nuclear power plants.
June 7   The government submits a report to the IAEA recognizing the inadequacy of disaster prevention at Japan’s nuclear power plants.  
June 8   Prime Minister Kan marks one year in office. The government’s current-account surplus for April declines by 70% compared to the same month the previous year. The trade deficit for the period May 1–20 exceeds ¥1 trillion.
June 9     Novelist Murakami Haruki delivers a speech in Spain denouncing the use of nuclear power.
June 10      
June 11   Prime Minister Kan visits affected areas in Iwate Prefecture.  
June 12      
June 13 A total of eight nuclear power plant workers in Fukushima have been exposed to radiation levels exceeding the 250-millisievert limit. A water purification system is installed to purify contaminated water. The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare announces that radiation levels in tap water do not pose health risk. Italian voters overwhelmingly reject nuclear power in a national plebiscite.
June 14     A Fukushima daily farmer takes his own life. His suicide note reads: “If only this nuclear disaster had never happened.”
June 15      
June 16      
June 17      
June 18   Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry Kaieda Banri says it is safe for nuclear power plants to resume operations.  
June 19      
June 20   A basic reconstruction law is enacted, amid mounting criticism of the fact it has taken 102 days since the disaster to enact the law.  
June 21 The water purification system temporarily shuts down due to malfunction. The government and opposition parties agree a 50-day extension of the Diet session. The same evening, Prime Minister Kan changes his proposal to 70 days.  
June 22   Decision is made to extend ordinary Diet session by 70 days.  
June 23      
June 24   Matsumoto Ryū is appointed minister in charge of reconstruction.  
June 25   The Reconstruction Design Council submits a report to Prime Minister Kan.  
June 26      
June 27 TEPCO begins cooling with recycled water in the Unit 1–3 reactors. Prime Minister Kan announces three conditions for his resignation, and his special advisor, Hosono Gōshi as minister in charge of handling the nuclear disaster.  
June 28 TEPCO holds its annual general shareholders meeting. First meeting of the government’s Headquarters for Reconstruction.  
June 29 New leakage of recycled coolant water occurs at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry Kaieda visits Saga Prefecture to request that the Genkai Nuclear Power Station resume operations. Local authorities seem likely to grant approval.  
June 30 Work on installing a temporary tide barrier is completed.    
July 1     Summertime electricity saving begins. The government calls for saving of 15% from TEPCO users and 22% from Tōhoku Electric Power Company users.
July 2      
July 3      
July 4      
July 5   Minister for Reconstruction Matsumoto Ryū, resigns after just nine days in office in the wake of insensitive remarks made to governors of prefectures affected by the earthquake and tsunami. His replacement is Hirano Tatsuo, senior vice minister at the cabinet office.  
July 6   Prime Minister Kan announces that “stress tests” will be conducted as a prerequisite for restarting nuclear power stations. Kyūshū Electric Power Company is discovered to have encouraged its employees to send emails in support of nuclear power to a televised public hearing.
July 7      
July 8      
July 9      
July 10      
July 11   Japan marks four months since the earthquake and tsunami.  
July 12      
July 13   Prime Minister Kan announces a policy of reducing Japan’s dependence on nuclear power.  
July 14   Prime Minister Kan states the move from nuclear power represents his own personal view, not government policy.  
July 15      
July 16      
July 17      
July 18      
July 19 TEPCO announces the latest schedule for resolving the nuclear disaster. Step 1 has been achieved and the target of a “cold shutdown” by January 2012 remains in place.    
July 20      
July 21      
July 22      
July 23      
July 24      
July 25   The Diet approves the second supplementary budget.  
July 26      
July 27      
July 28      
July 29      
July 30     Record rainfall in Fukushima and Niigata Prefectures leaves two people dead and a further four missing.
July 31      
August 1 The highest radiation level so far (over 10 sieverts per hour) is detected in the exhaust pipe between the Unit 1 and 2 reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.    
August 2      
August 3      
August 4      
August 5      
August 6      
August 7      
August 8      
August 9     The Nikkei average falls to ¥8,656, dipping below the ¥9,000 mark for the first time in five months.
August 10 Work begins on assembling the steel framework for the cover at the Unit 1 reactor.    
August 11   Japan marks five months since the earthquake and tsunami.  
August 12      
August 13      
August 14      
August 15      
August 16      
August 17 The Hokkaidō Electric Power Company resumes operations at its Tomari Nuclear Power Station. This is the first nuclear power plant to be put back on line since the nuclear disaster in Fukushima.    
August 18      
August 19     The yen reaches a postwar high of 75.95 against the US dollar.
August 20   The government admits that residents evacuated from a 3km radius of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station may not be able to return home for an extended period of time.  
August 21      
August 22      
August 23      
August 24     Credit rating agency Moody’s downgrades Japan’s debt rating.
August 25      
August 26   Prime Minister Kan Naoto announces his resignation. Residents evacuated from within a 3km radius of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station are allowed to return home for short visits.
August 27      
August 28      
August 29   Noda Yoshihiko is elected as new leader of the Democratic Party of Japan.  
August 30   Noda Yoshihiko becomes Japan’s sixth prime minister in the past five years.  
August 31      
September 1   Disaster Prevention Day (held annually to mark the 1923 Great Kantō Earthquake).  
September 2   The cabinet of new Prime Minister Noda is launched. The ministers in charge of reconstruction and the nuclear crisis remain the same as in the previous cabinet. Typhoon Talas makes landfall in Japan, causing extensive damage across western Honshū over the next four days. Fifty people are confirmed dead, with another 54 still missing.
September 3      
September 4      
September 5      
September 6      
September 7      
September 8      
September 9      
September 10      
September 11   Japan marks six months since the earthquake and tsunami.  

(Originally written in Japanese.)

Great East Japan Earthquake Kan Naoto recovery Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station nuclear accident government ruling party disaster response recovery policies