Another day another quake… At least, it felt a bit like that when, exactly one month after the March 11 quake and tsunami devastated northeastern Japan, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake hit the northeast yet again and rocked Tokyo at 5.25pm on Monday.
Monday’s earthquake struck along the ravaged northeast coast, but much closer than the March 11 one to the coast of Fukushima and Ibaraki prefectures — the former, about 240km northeast of Tokyo, the site of the crippled Daiichi nuclear power plant, where an estimated 300 workers are trying to stem radiation leaks and bring the plant under control.
Tepco, the much reviled operator of the troubled plant, within 10 minutes issued a statement assuring people that no further irregularities had been found at the plant. The company then trotted five officials out, all clad in blue uniforms, for a quick, nationally televised conference to confirm that workers had been evacuated from the plant.
The evacuation meant temporary suspension of the ongoing effort to inject water into three troubled reactors, to cool nuclear fuel rods. But work would resume shortly, the Tepco officials said.
A tsunami warning — this time for waves of only up to 1m (compared to the monster wave that swept away whole towns on March 11) — was issued, but was lifted about 45 minutes later.
As rain fell on a grey, Monday afternoon in Tokyo, the quake felt even stronger than the one that hit last Thursday near midnight, that one centred a bit further north from Fukushima, although they were the same magnitudes.
Coming after a weekend where life in Tokyo felt almost — almost — like it was returning to a fragile kind of normal, the quake seemed to jar nerves of Tokyo residents more than last week’s jolt did.
One reason was that it came just at the start of the commuter rush home, on one of the first rainy afternoons in weeks, and disrupting some crucial train services. It also seemed to have a more disruptive intensity that shook buildings more strongly than the one last Thursday.
Of course, the real sufferers were once again the shattered survivors in the devastated northeast region. Adding to the pain were three sizeable tremors that followed the jolt in about 10 minute intervals — each one rattling objects and shaking walls of buildings from Tokyo to the northeast coast.
Meanwhile, the Japanese government said on Monday it will begin expanding the evacuation zone around the Fukushima plant beyond the 20km radius.
The move came in response to pressure from groups including Greenpeace which have argued — accurately — that radiation does not extend in neat circles and that it was unrealistic to adhere to a strickt 20km exclusion zone around the nuclear plant.
As Reuters reports, the chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano said the government would use a new, more targeted approach to radiation measures and issue new evacuation orders to communities deemed to be in areas — even 40km from the plant — that have had more radiation exposure than others that were possibly nearer.
Meanwhile, in Tokyo, we’re not sure if the false sense of security generated by a weekend partying under blooming cherry blossom trees — which much of Tokyo seemed to be doing — was the best thing to keep the population psyched for fresh dangers.
As JapanRealTime noted:
As the blossoms moved toward full bloom across the city, the season of “hanami” parties in Tokyo parks and gardens seemed to approach something closer to full swing over the weekend, after a hesitant start.
No matter how stretched their jangled nerves might be after Monday and the previous Thursday’s experiences, residents of eastern Japan would do well to get accustomed to the shaking and jolting.
There have been countless small aftershocks in the past month — some experts say up to 800 or so. But over the next year or so, there will also be many that can be expected to reach an intensity of magnitude 7 or more, say experts.
Reporting this fact, a CNN reporter remarked, “That won’t make this nuclear crisis any easier”.
We’d love to hear if anything can make a nuclear crisis “easier”?
Japan disaster coverage – FT.com