Crisis at stricken Japan nuclear plant escalates to level of Chernobyl; six killed in aftershock

The crisis at a stricken nuclear plant on the northeast coast of Japan is now as severe as the disaster at Chernobyl in 1986, officials have said. Radiation is continuing to leak from the plant, which was damaged during the devastating magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami last month, which left thousands dead. Japanese authorities have warned the crisis is now a “major accident” with “wider consequences” than previously thought.

A spokesperson for NISA, the Japanese government nuclear authority, said officials had upgraded the crisis to a level seven on the International Nuclear Event Scale—the same applied to the Chernobyl disaster—because of a number of factors, including the detection of radiation in crops. “We have upgraded the severity level to seven as the impact of radiation leaks has been widespread from the air, vegetables, tap water and the ocean,” he said.

A new magnitude 6.6 aftershock yesterday triggered a mudslide which left six people dead. Image: United States Geological Survey.

 TEPCO, the operator of the plant, has warned radiation was continuing to leak from the site and the magnitude of the crisis could exceed that of Chernobyl. Despite this, Japanese nuclear safety officials have insisted the leakage of radiation was small compared to the devastated plant in the former Soviet Union. “In terms of volume of radioactive materials released, our estimate shows it is about ten percent of what was released by Chernobyl,” one nuclear official said.

The news comes as a new blow after another powerful aftershock yesterday which left at least six people dead after they were killed in a mudslide in the city of Iwaki. The landslide, which destroyed numerous homes, was triggered by a magnitude 6.6 aftershock which came exactly a month after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake. Fire officials in the city said three people had already been rescued and taken to hospital, and emergency workers were working to free an unknown number of others.

The devastated Fukushima I nuclear power plant pictured five days after the initial earthquake. Image: DigitalGlobe.

Workers at the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant returned after they were briefly evacuated following the earthquake, and officials issued tsunami warnings for the northeast coast which were later cancelled. Workers have been fighting a desperate battle to prevent the reactors from overheating and entering meltdown. Raging fires burned into the night after the earthquake, and TEPCO reported widespread power outages; hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses had power cut off.

Reports of the change in severity at the damaged nuclear plant followed the announcement that the exclusion zone around the site was to be expanded. A spokesperson for the government confirmed the radius of the zone would be expanded to include another five communities over the next several weeks. He stressed there was “no need to evacuate immediately” but said concerns had been raised over health risks from the leaking radiation.

The International Nuclear Events Scale; the accidents at the Fukushima I have been elevated to level seven, the highest level on the scale, putting it on par with the Chernobyl disaster, originally the accidents were rated at level five, the same level of the Three Mile Island accident. Image: Silver Spoon.

 The new development at the plant and the aftershock are new blows to a country wounded after the massive earthquake in March, which caused a tsunami that washed away whole towns and villages along the country’s northeast coast. Thousands of bodies have been recovered, and many more are still unaccounted for, many left under mounds of rubble or washed out to sea. More than 150,000 people remain displaced, living in emergency shelters.

Before the aftershock struck yesterday, survivors of the first earthquake marked the time it hit a month ago with a moment of silence across the country. Writing to seven international newspapers, Naoto Kan, the Japanese prime minister, expressed his gratitude to people globally for their support. “Through our own efforts and with the help of the global community, Japan will recover and come back even stronger. We will then repay you for your generous aid,” he wrote. “With this in our hearts, we now stand together dedicated to rebuilding the nation.”

Japan facing ‘most severe crisis since World War II’, says prime minister

Amongst the aftermath of a magnitude 8.9 earthquake which struck on Friday, followed by a tsunami, Naoto Kan, the current prime minister of Japan, has claimed that the country is experiencing its largest difficulties since the end of World War II in 1945.

“The current situation of the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear plants is in a way the most severe crisis in the past 65 years since World War II,” Kan stated. Speaking on television, he stated that “[w]hether we Japanese can overcome this crisis depends on each of us. I strongly believe that we can get over this great earthquake and tsunami by joining together.”

Sendai City after Tsunami.

Kan reported that there were limited supplies of electricity due to the closure of numerous power stations, including a nuclear power plant located in Fukushima Prefecture. According to NHK, a broadcasting organization in Japan, approximately 310,000 individuals have been transported to safety in shelters that, in various cases, do not contain electricity.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

The Government of Japan has reported the deaths of one thousand individuals, although thousands of others have not been taken into account. The police have claimed that the death toll in the Miyagi Prefecture as a result of the earthquake and tsunami could be in excess of ten thousand. 100,000 troops – which equates to approximately 40% of the country’s armed forces – are said to have been committed to assisting with the survivors of the disasters.

The nuclear agency of Japan consider the circumstances at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant to be Level 4 on the International Nuclear Event Scale, which is an accident with local consequences. According to BBC News Online, incidents like this usually cause one person to die from causes related to radiation. No individuals from the power plant are reported to have died.

8.9 magnitude earthquake hits Japan, causes tsunami

A massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake occurred in northern Japan early on Friday. The earthquake’s epicenter is 130 km (81 miles) east of Sendai, in the Honshu island of Japan. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the epicenter was at a depth of 24.4 km (15.2 miles). 29 people are reported dead. (www.bbc.co.uk)

The earthquake triggered tsunamis in various parts of the country. Japan issued a tsunami warning immediately after the earthquake, followed by tsunami warnings for New Zealand, Australia, Russia, Guam, Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Hawaii, Northern Marianas (USA) and Taiwan. It is confirmed for the Philippines that if the tsunami doesn’t hit the country for 2 hours (5:00 – 7:00) it will be slightly safer, it is currently alert number two for all regions.

Effect of 2011 Sendai earthquake in Tokyo

The tsunami attained a height of 10 meters, and swept houses, buildings and cars according to reports. Shinkansen stopped the bullet train service following the quake. According to reports, an oil refinery was set ablaze by the quake at Ichihara, Chiba prefecture to the east of Tokyo.

The National Weather Service said that earthquakes “of this size” often “generate tsunamis potentially dangerous to coasts outside the source region.” “Based on all available data a tsunami may have been generated by this earthquake that could be destructive on coastal areas even far from the epicenter,” it added.

Sendai earthquake - Refinery fire.

About 20 people were reportedly injured in Tokyo following the collapse of a roof of a hall. 4 million people are estimated to be without power in the capital. In Sendai, several people are feared to be buried under the remains of a collapsed hotel.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said there had been no nuclear plant radiation leaks caused by the disaster. He expressed sympathy to all victims in his address, promising help, and stating that an emergency response headquarters had been set up. No death toll has been confirmed yet. The disaster is currently being broadcasted world wide in lots of local channels and international cable ones like CNN, History Channel, Discovery Channel, and a lot more. Japanese, and other eastern sian countries’ officials are devastated by this.

 

Magnitude 6.3 earthquake hits New Zealand’s South Island; dozens dead

A magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck the South Island of New Zealand at 12:51 PM local time on Tuesday (Monday 23:51 UTC). At least 32 people have been killed. Earlier, Prime Minister John Key advised media of 65 deaths from collapsing buildings in central Christchurch, with more expected, but the number was cut in half because police have only been able to confirm the deaths of 32 people. The spire of the iconic Anglican ChristChurch Cathedral has fallen and rubble is strewn throughout the central business district. Roads and carparks have cracked and lifted, and two buses are reported to be crushed under the bus exchange. Pools of mud have erupted due to burst water mains and liquefaction. Boulders and falling cliff faces have destroyed buildings on hillside suburbs. Fears for the safety of nearby towns Lyttleton and Akaroa are exacerbated due to communication problems.

The Pico Wholefood building in Christchurch was badly damaged by the earthquake. Image: Schwede66.

The earthquake was centered near Christchurch, at a depth of five kilometers, according to the United States Geological Survey. Unlike previous quakes in the region that caused no fatalities, Tuesday quake was shallower and closer to the central city and the damage was much worse. Condemned buildings, weakened by last year’s widespread earthquakes, were destroyed. Some aftershocks have occurred in the area after the earthquake. The largest so far was a magnitude 5.6 which occurred at 7:04 p.m. February 21 EDT (1:04:18 p.m. local time, February 22). The historic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Christchurch has half collapsed, while the old Canterbury Provincial Chambers building, Piko Wholefoods, Canterbury Television, and a church on Durham Street have been destroyed.

The earthquake also caused an estimated 30 million tons of ice to break off of the Tasman Glacier forming icebergs in a lake near its foot. Tourists on boats at the time of the quake say waves of 3.5 meters swept the lake for at least 30 minutes following the event. The glacier sits on the country’s west coast, approximately 120 miles (200km) from Christchurch. No injuries were reported.

Many people are trapped in damaged buildings or under rubble, but emergency services have been hampered by gridlock as motorists and pedestrians evacuated the CBD. The main hospital remains operational despite one damaged ward being closed, and three triage centres have been set up to provide medical aid. Several hundred delegates attending a medical conference in the city, the great majority from Australia, have been trapped in the city; some of these are assisting with tending to the injured.

Electricity, telephone services, and traffic lights suffered widespread outages. Telecom is attempting to assess the damage, and generators have been sent down from Auckland to replace the backup generators in the city. Civil Defence is mounting a response with all available national resources, and Cabinet is holding an emergency session. Speaking to Radio New Zealand, Mayor Bob Parker said he was “thrown quite a distance”, that there were scenes of “great confusion” on the streets, and that the quake was “as violent as the one that happened on the 4th of September”. The emergency telephone code, 111 was not working for the entire region of Southland, New Zealand but is apparently stable as of approx. 4 pm NZDT. Christchurch Airport is currently closed to all but emergency flights. Speaking after the earthquake, Bob Parker said at least 200 people are believed trapped under rubble, saying that New Zealand are “going to be presented with statistics that are going to be bleak”.

5.9 magnitude aftershock strikes Lolol, Chile area

A strong aftershock of the March 11 Pichilemu earthquake occurred today, at 12:29:49 local time (16:29:49 UTC), National Emergencies Office of Chile reports. The earthquake had a magnitude of 5.9, and occurred 13 kilometers southwest of Lolol, O’Higgins Region, at a depth of 50 kilometers.

The United States Geological Survey, however, reported the earthquake had a magnitude of 4.9, and that it occurred at a depth of 64.9 kilometers. The epicenter was located 70 kilometers west-southwest of Rancagua, O’Higgins; 80 kilometers north-northwest of Curicó, Maule; 80 kilometers south of San Antonio, Valparaíso; and 125 kilometers southwest of Santiago, Metropolitan Region.

The University of Chile Geological Service, for their part, reported the earthquake had a magnitude of 5.6, and that it occurred 43 kilometers southwest of Santa Cruz, at a depth of 51 kilometers.

The aftershock was clearly felt in Pichilemu; schools quickly evacuated to secure zones. There were reported power outages in Lolol. Telephone calls were truncated for a few minutes in O’Higgins Region. No infrastructural damage or casualties have been reported.

According to BBC News, eight aftershocks have occurred along the coast of O’Higgins Region, between magnitudes of 3,1 and 3,7.

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