Japan Earthquake: No Deaths Reported, Prime Minister Says

The Four Percent

TOKYO — A large earthquake shook a broad area across eastern Japan late Saturday night, with its epicenter off the coast of Fukushima, near where three nuclear reactors melted down after a quake and tsunami nearly 10 years ago.

As of Sunday morning, no deaths had been reported from the quake, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said. But more than 100 people were injured, according to the state broadcaster, NHK.

The quake left nearly a million households without power across the Fukushima region and forced the closure of roads and suspension of train services. While rattled residents braced for aftershocks, a landslide cut off a chunk of a main artery through Fukushima Prefecture.

Japan’s meteorological service reported the quake’s magnitude as 7.3, up from the initial assessment of 7.1, but said there was no danger of a tsunami.

Coming a little less than a month before the 10th anniversary of what is known as the Great East Japan earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster, the quake rattled an area that stretched from as far north as Hokkaido to the Chugoku region in western Japan.

The greater Tokyo area felt the quake for about 30 seconds starting at 11:08 p.m., but the shaking was felt most powerfully in Fukushima and Miyagi.

The quake was an unnerving reminder of the vastly more powerful 8.9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in 2011, killing more than 16,000 people. After the subsequent nuclear disaster in Fukushima, 164,000 people fled or were evacuated from around the plant.

In comments after a meeting about the quake on Sunday morning, Mr. Suga warned residents to be prepared for aftershocks and to take precautions.

“For the next week, please stay alert to the possibility of more earthquakes” of a similar size, he said, adding, “Don’t be negligent.”

Saturday’s quake struck as Tokyo and nine other large prefectures are under a state of emergency to contain the coronavirus. Residents are encouraged to work from home and avoid going out at night, while restaurants and bars are closed at 8 each night.

Japan is also preparing to host the Summer Olympics, postponed by a year from 2020. The Games are scheduled to open on July 23.

Authorities, mobilizing in response, watch nuclear plants closely.

The prime minister’s office immediately set up a crisis management office and the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, which maintains the disabled nuclear plants, said it was checking its monitoring posts in Fukushima to ensure that there were no radiation leaks.

Shortly after midnight, the public broadcaster NHK reported that Tepco had detected “no major abnormalities” at any of the Dai-ichi reactors where the meltdowns occurred in 2011 or at the Dai-ni plant a few miles away in Fukushima.

Early Sunday morning, Tepco said it had found that water in some of the pools that store spent nuclear fuel rods had splashed onto the pool decks inside the reactors at both the Dai-ichi and Dai-ni plants. But Tepco said no water had leaked outside the reactors.

In brief comments to reporters just before 2 a.m., Mr. Suga advised residents not to go outside and to brace for aftershocks.

Aftershocks: What the hours and days ahead may hold.

Speaking on NHK, Takashi Furumura, a professor at the Earthquake Research Institute at the University of Tokyo, warned that a quake of this size could be followed within two or three days by another of similar scale.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said the quake’s epicenter was about 60 kilometers — or about 37 miles — off the coast of Fukushima and about 34 miles deep. On land, the strongest magnitude felt was 6-plus.

The earthquake that struck Japan on Saturday night caused minor damage to a tank holding wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear plants that were damaged in the 2011 disaster, according to the company that manages the facilities.

The tank is one of 1,000 that store around a million tons of contaminated water. They are located near the site of the three reactors that melted down after the powerful earthquake and tsunami that hit the coast of Fukushima Prefecture nearly a decade ago.

The wastewater stored in the tanks is used to cool melted fuel in the Fukushima reactors, which remains too hot and radioactive to remove. Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has proposed filtering the toxic material out of the water and gradually releasing it into the ocean or letting it evaporate, ideas that have met with opposition from environmentalists and local fishing communities.

On Sunday morning, Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, said in a statement that small amounts of irradiated water had leaked out of several pencil-thin cracks around a flange in the bottom portion of one of the tanks, releasing about enough fluid to fill a small cup of coffee. The leaks were contained and posed no danger, it said.

Less than two liters of contaminated water had splashed out of spent fuel pools at a second site, it said, adding that that liquid was also contained.

The company said it had detected no other irregularities at the nuclear plants or waste disposal sites, but that it was continuing to carry out inspections.

Japan has endured a history of devastating earthquakes.

In 2018, dozens died and millions lost power in their homes after a powerful quake in the northern island of Hokkaido triggered landslides. The quake that summer came just days after the largest typhoon recorded in 25 years struck Japan.

Makiko Inoue, Hisako Ueno, Hikari Hida and Elian Peltier contributed reporting.

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