Massive earthquake, tsunamis in Japan causes heightened alert for nuclear power plants

By Phaedra Friend Troy

An earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter Scale was recorded near the east coast of Honshu, Japan Friday, followed by a series of massive tsunamis hitting the coastline. Preliminary reports estimate at least 50 people have died, but more are feared dead.

Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) has declared a heightened state of alert at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The plant has been safely shut down and a release of radiation has not been detected.

Additionally, Japanese authorities have reported a fire at the Onagawa nuclear power plant; although the fire has been extinguished.

According to Japanese authorities, the four nuclear power plants nearest the earthquake – including Onagawa, Fukushima Daini and Tokai -- have been shut down automatically. No radiation release has been detected from these nuclear power plants.

Second Quake Hits Japan

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports that its International Seismic Safety Center has recorded a second earthquake measuring 6.5 magnitude near the coast of Honshu, in Japan. This second quake is near the Tokai nuclear power plant.

The IAEA is currently seeking further information about the situation at the nuclear power plants and research reactors that may have been affected by the earthquakes and tsunamis. The group is searching for information about the off-site and on-site electrical power supplies, cooling systems and the condition of the reactor buildings at the nuclear sites.

Even after a nuclear power plant has been shut down, nuclear fuel requires constant cooling.

All IAEA staff in Japan at the Tokyo office and at nuclear facilities has been confirmed safe.

According to CNN, 20 countries are now under tsunami warnings, including Russia, Gautemala, Costa Rica and the US’s Pacific Island state of Hawaii.

In the wake of the environmental disaster, the IAEA is monitoring nuclear power plants in the area to ensure safety. The IAEA is in communication with the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), and has offered support to the Japanese government.

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