Strong earthquake in Japan raises fears of another Fukushima

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Strong earthquake in Japan raises fears of another Fukushima

TOKYO — A powerful earthquake in Japan’s Fukushima region, where a decade ago tsunami set off one of the worst nuclear plant disasters in history, shook buildings for more than two minutes late Wednesday.

Then the wait started.

Shortly after the quake struck at 11:36 a.m., the Japan Meteorological Agency issued a tsunami warning for the prefectures of Fukushima and Miyagi, and thousands of residents, many of whom only remember the 2011 destruction very well, were evacuated. been vacated.

“Please put out any kind of fire,” officials in Fukushima’s Minamisoma city told residents. urged them to go to safe ground, “Please listen to TV and radio and act calmly and accordingly.”

Hours later, the warnings were lifted.

Several small tsunami waves measuring perhaps 20 centimeters (eight inches) in height were reported in the two communities, but they were one-fifth of the predicted size – and smaller than the 45-foot wave that devastated the region in 2011. More than 19,000 people died in that devastation.

“There was a lot of stuff thrown around in a lot of areas, like files and everything,” said Shelley Reid, a staff member at Minamisoma City Hall. “Some roads were damaged, especially along the coast. There were some landslides.”

One person has been confirmed dead in Minamisoma and one in Tome City of Miyagi Prefecture after Wednesday’s earthquake. At least 126 were injured.

The quake measured 7.3 – strong enough to cause severe structural damage – but the 9 Thoku earthquake that caused the devastating 2011 tsunami was hundreds of times as powerful. The epicenter of Wednesday’s quake was 20 miles off the east coast of Japan and about 37 miles below sea level.

“We don’t usually see devastating tsunamis until you get to about 7.5,” said Don Blakeman, a geophysicist at the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo.

But reports of damage were still coming in Thursday morning, and the quake, which could be felt some 200 miles away in Tokyo, caused more than just a rattle in a country where many people resurfaced the earth beneath their feet. Waiting to move. any moment.

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Two million people were left without electricity, if only briefly, and fire departments were called in to rescue passengers trapped in the elevator. A bullet train carrying about 100 people derailed between Fukushima and Shiroshizau stations, although no injuries were reported. And passengers on subway trains posted videos of cars waving precariously as they made their way through tunnels.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the country’s self-defense forces were mobilized to assess the damage.

“We are still trying to understand the situation and collect information,” he said at a news briefing. “The government will come together to do everything possible to save and protect people’s lives and provide accurate information.”

The magnitude of the earthquake was comparable to the 1995 Kobe earthquake, which killed more than 6,000 people. The difference was its depth under the sea.

Several Japanese noted that the quake came just five days after the country celebrated the 11th anniversary of the Fukushima disaster.

“Another big earthquake in Tohoku,” said Aiko Sawada, a retired medical researcher. wrote on twitter, “And so soon after the 3.11 anniversary. I pray the damage remains to a minimum.”

After an earthquake in 2011, one of the most powerful tsunami waves ever recorded ruptured the protective sea walls of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and submerged the facility, causing a meltdown of three reactors.

Officials in Japan set out on Thursday to inspect nuclear plants in the region shortly after the tremor. He said he found no abnormalities in the plants at Fukushima; In Onagawa in Miyagi Prefecture; Or in Tokai in Ibaraki Prefecture.

Tokyo Electric Power Company said a fire alarm had sounded at a reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The plant has been undergoing extensive cleaning since the disaster 11 years ago.

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and water pumps for spent fuel cooling pools at a separate power plant in Fukushima were down early Thursday, but Tokyo Electric said there was still water in the pools, and that both pumps returned to operation before 2 a.m. Were, according to NHK, the public broadcaster.

That tsunami left Japan with a formidable challenge: How does an earthquake and tsunami-prone island nation teeming with nuclear reactors avoid another disaster?

Japanese nuclear regulators have ordered a flurry of new safety measures in the country’s reactors in recent years, including new sea walls, flood gates and protection for critical backup generators that power the pumps that cool the hot reactor cores. provide power.

But the work is worth considering, and there remains a deep distrust of nuclear power among many Japanese.

For example, at the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant, which is located on the Pacific Coast west of Tokyo, workers built the tallest 72-foot sea wall in the country to protect their three reactors. Then came the bad news: Scientists working on new estimates of a potential tsunami in the region warned last year that the waves could reach nearly 74 feet.

Hamaoka remains closed, as do many other reactors in Japan.

A decade later, nuclear power, which once provided about a third of Japan’s electricity, now accounts for only a few percent. Thirty-three reactors are capable of generating electricity – but only five are doing so. The rest are either undergoing inspection or are awaiting approval to resume.

motoko rich reported from Tokyo, and Eric Nagorny from New York. Reporting was contributed by Hiroko Tabuccio And nadav gavrilov in New York and Thomas Fuller in San Francisco.

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