Waste Drums Tipped at Nuke Plant after Deadly Japan Quake; Thousands Evacuate Quake Zone
KASHIWAZAKI, Japan -- A powerful earthquake tipped over barrels of nuclear waste at a power plant and officials on Tuesday were investigating whether there were any radioactive leaks, a day after they said the quake had caused the reactor to spill radioactive water into the sea.
The death toll stood at nine a day after the 6.6-magnitude quake. One person was missing and another 13,000 were homeless, as rescue workers rushed to locate any survivors in the rubble amid fears of landslides.
The quake had caused a leak of water with radioactive material Monday at the Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear power plant, the world's largest in terms of electricity output, although officials said that leak caused no harm to the environment.
On Tuesday, officials said about 100 drums containing low-level nuclear waste fell over at the plant during the quake. They were found a day later, some with their lids open, said Masahide Ichikawa, an official with the local government in Niigata prefecture.
A spokesman at Tokyo Electric Power Co., which runs the plant, said the company was still trying to determine whether any hazardous material had spilled but said there was no effect outside the plant.
"We have no information at this time that there is any effect on the outside environment," TEPCO spokesman Manabu Takeyama said.
Another leak at the Kashiwazaki power plant would feed fresh concerns about the safety of Japan's 55 nuclear reactors, which supply 30 percent of the quake-prone country's electricity and have suffered a long string of accidents and cover-ups.
Monday's quake initially triggered a small fire at an electrical transformer in the sprawling plant. But it was announced 12 hours later that the temblor also caused a leak of water containing radioactive material.
Officials said the water leak was harmless and well below safety standards, but the delay in notifying the public spurred concern among anti-nuclear activists and triggered criticism from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
"They raised the alert too late. I have sent stern instructions that such alerts must be raised seriously and swiftly," Abe told reporters in Tokyo. "Those involved should repent their actions."
Meanwhile, nearly 13,000 people packed into evacuation centers such as schools and other secure buildings in the quake zone 160 miles northwest of Tokyo, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said.
People packed school gymnasiums and community centers in the city, camping out on traditional Japanese futon mattresses and fanning themselves from the muggy summer heat.
Thunderstorms and flooding were expected Tuesday throughout the quake zone, increasing the likelihood that the quake-softened, water-logged ground would give way on hillsides and cause even more damage, officials said.
Light rain began to fall by early afternoon in Kashiwazaki and up to 2.4 inches were expected by Wednesday morning, according to the local observatory.
"The damage is more than we had imagined," Kashiwazaki Mayor Hiroshi Aida said while inspecting damaged areas of his town. "We want to restore the water supply as soon as possible so more people can return home."
Nine people in their 70s or 80s -- six women and three men -- were killed in the quake, and 47 were seriously injured.
The Defense Ministry dispatched 450 soldiers to the devastated area to clear rumble, search for any survivors under collapsed buildings and provide food, water and toilet facilities. People formed long lines to fill bottles with fresh water.
About 50,000 homes were without water and 35,000 were without gas as of Tuesday morning, local official Mitsugu Abe said. About 27,000 households were without power.
The Japanese Meteorological Agency put the initial quake's magnitude at 6.8, while the U.S. Geological Survey said it was 6.6. The quake, which hit the region at 10:13 a.m., was centered off the coast of Niigata, 160 miles northwest of Tokyo.
The area was plagued by a series of aftershocks, though there were no immediate reports of additional damage or injuries from the aftershocks.
Near midnight, Japan's Meteorological Agency said a 6.6-magnitude quake hit off the west coast, shaking wide areas of Japan, but it was unrelated to the Niigata quake to the north and there were no immediate reports of damage.
Source: Associated Press