Japan clears restart at nuclear reactor closest to epicenter of 2011 quake

By Aaron Sheldrick and Yuka Obayashi

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s Tohoku Electric Power said on Wednesday it has won initial regulatory approval to restart a reactor at its Onagawa power plant, more than 8 years after it was damaged in the earthquake and tsunami that caused the Fukushima disaster.

Tohoku Electric said in a statement it has received a first green light from Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority to restart the No. 2 reactor at Onagawa, subject to a public consultation period.

Onagawa was the closest among Japan’s nuclear stations to the epicenter of the magnitude-9 quake in March 2011, which triggered a tsunami that killed nearly 20,000 people, as well as causing the worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

The station was swamped by the tsunami, but survived with its cooling system intact, saving its reactors from the threat of meltdowns similar to those that occurred at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi station to the south.

Further approvals will be required before the restart, along with the consent of local authorities, which is not guaranteed.

The reactor is a boiling water reactor (BWR) with the same basic design as those that melted down in the Fukushima crisis.

Tohoku Electric expects to spend 340 billion yen ($3.1 billion) on safety upgrades at the Onagawa plant, including for a wall stretching 800 meters (2,625-ft) in length and standing as tall as 29 meters above sea level to protect it from tsunamis.

Restarting the No. 2 reactor will save the utility 35 billion yen each year in fuel costs, he said.

The Fukushima disaster led to the eventual shutdown of the country’s then-54 operational reactors, which once provided nearly a third of Japan’s electricity. All had to be relicensed under new standards after the disaster highlighted operational and regulatory failings.

While the approval will be a boost for Japan’s resurgent nuclear industry, the sector will still miss a government target of providing at least a fifth of the country’s electricity by 2030, an analysis by Reuters showed last year.

Nine reactors have been restarted, all of them pressurized water reactors located far from Tokyo, while the stigma of Fukushima still hangs over use of the older BWR technology.

The issue of nuclear safety in Japan was highlighted again earlier this week when Pope Francis – who met victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster while in Japan over the weekend – said nuclear energy should not be used until there are ironclad guarantees that it is safe for people and the environment.

 

(Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick and Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

First Ebola patient in eastern Congo’s main city dies, fears of epidemic spreading

A health worker checks the temperature of a woman as she crosses the Mpondwe border point separating Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of the ebola screening at the computerised Mpondwe Health Screening Facility in Mpondwe, Uganda June 13, 2019. REUTERS/Newton Nabwaya

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – The first Ebola patient in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s largest city, Goma, has died, the government said on Tuesday.

The spread of the virus to Goma, a city of roughly 1 million people on the border with Rwanda, has raised fears the outbreak, which is already the second deadliest Ebola epidemic ever, could spread more widely.

The patient was a priest who became infected during a visit to the town of Butembo, one of the epicenters of the outbreak, before taking a bus to Goma, according to Congo’s health ministry.

He was being driven from Goma to a clinic in Butembo on Monday to receive treatment when he died, North Kivu province’s Governor Carly Nzanzu told an Ebola response meeting.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that health officials had identified 60 people who had come into contact with the pastor since he was taken ill and that half of them had been vaccinated.

Goma, a lakeside city more than 350 kilometers (220 miles) south of where Ebola was first detected a year ago, is the largest city to be affected by the outbreak, which has infected more than 2,500 people and killed nearly 1,700.

Three Ebola cases which originated in Congo were confirmed in neighboring Uganda a month ago, but no new cases have since been registered in that country.

(Reporting by Stanis Bujakera and Djaffar Al Katanty, Writing by Anna Pujol-Mazzini, Editing by Ed Osmond)

Shaken communities take stock of damage after Southern California quakes

A house left destroyed by a powerful magnitude 7.1 earthquake, triggered by a 6.4 the previous day, is seen at night near the epicenter in Trona, California, U.S., July 6, 2019. REUTERS/David McNew

By Alan Devall

RIDGECREST, Calif. (Reuters) – High desert communities in Southern California on Saturday assessed damage and braced for potentially dangerous aftershocks from a major earthquake that shook buildings, ruptured gas lines and sparked fires near the remote epicenter of the second temblor in as many days.

A house is left destroyed by an earthquake, triggered by a previous day quake, near the epicenter in Trona, California, U.S., July 6, 2019. REUTERS/David McNew

A house is left destroyed by an earthquake, triggered by a previous day quake, near the epicenter in Trona, California, U.S., July 6, 2019. REUTERS/David McNew

The powerful magnitude 7.1 earthquake rocked the Mojave Desert town of Ridgecrest south of Death Valley National Park as darkness fell on Friday, jolting the area with eight times more force than a 6.4 quake that struck the same area 34 hours earlier.

California Governor Gavin Newsom placed the state Office of Emergency Services (OES) on its highest alert and requested federal assistance.

He told a news conference in Ridgecrest on Saturday that he had just got off a phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump, seeking a presidential emergency declaration.

“I have full confidence that the president will be forthcoming, in immediate terms, with the formal declaration,” Newsom said, flanked by first responders.

Cracks emerge on a road after an earthquake broke in Trona, California, U.S., in this photo from the USGS posted on July 6, 2019. USGS/Handout via REUTERS

Cracks emerge on a road after an earthquake broke in Trona, California, U.S., in this photo from the USGS posted on July 6, 2019. USGS/Handout via REUTERS

There were several minor to moderate injuries, OES Director Mark Ghilarducci told reporters.

“No reports of any fatalities, so I think we’re very lucky there,” he said.

There were reports of building fires, mostly as a result of gas leaks or gas-line breaks, Ghilarducci said.

State officials said all roads damaged by the quakes had been repaired and reopened.

Violent shaking also caused water-main breaks and knocked out power and communications to parts of Ridgecrest, home to about 27,000 people some 125 miles (200 km) northeast of Los Angeles.

Officials warned there was sure to be a significant number of aftershocks, including possible powerful ones, and advised residents to ensure they had necessary supplies.

“I’ve said this ad nauseam: be prepared for the worst,” said Newsom, who on Saturday met victims in the hospital and visited a hardware store where the earthquake hurled products from shelves and left ceiling tiles scattered across the aisles.

Standing outside her damaged home in Ridgecrest, life-long resident Sierra Wood said it was heartbreaking and scary.

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this,” she said. “I mean – they say that it’s happened and you’ve heard about it. But once you’re in it, it’s completely different, it’s terrifying. It’s terrifying.”

Her husband, Keith Wood, said the aftershocks were grueling.

“It’s like when, when do we get a break from it?” he said. “When is enough enough? Mother Nature has had her way. Give us a break now, OK?”

Evacuees leave a fire station with their belongings after an earthquake near Trona, California, U.S. July 6, 2019. REUTERS/Gene Blevins

Evacuees leave a fire station with their belongings after an earthquake near Trona, California, U.S. July 6, 2019. REUTERS/Gene Blevins

The sprawling U.S. Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake just northwest of Ridgecrest was evacuated of all non-essential personnel following the quake.

The facility, which at more than 1.1 million acres (445,000 hectares) is larger than the state of Rhode Island, reported no injuries. Authorities were assessing any damage to buildings or other infrastructure, according to a post on the base’s Facebook page.

MORE TO COME

Friday’s earthquake was widely felt across Southern California, including greater Los Angeles, where shaking in some areas lasted about 40 seconds. Low-level rumbling extended as far north as the San Francisco Bay area and beyond to Reno, Nevada, and as far east as Phoenix, Arizona.

Seismologists said the initial quake on Thursday, and scores of smaller ones that followed it, proved to be foreshocks to Friday’s larger temblor, which now ranks as Southern California’s most powerful since a 7.1 quake that struck near a U.S. Marine Corps base in the Mojave Desert in 1999.

The U.S. Geological Survey said Friday’s quake was immediately followed by at least 16 aftershocks of magnitude 4 or greater and warned of a 50 percent chance of another magnitude 6 quake in the coming days. Geologists put the chance of another magnitude 7 tremor at 10 percent over the next week.

There were hundreds of aftershocks of 2.5 magnitude or greater in the area surrounding the epicenter, according to USGS data.

Victor Abdullatif was helping clean up broken bottles and other debris inside his father’s liquor store, the Eastridge Market, which sustained damage to its ceiling, and found the periodic aftershocks unnerving.

“They’re still scary because you almost don’t know, ‘Is this going to be a full earthquake?’ You have to kind of have faith that it’s just an aftershock,” he told Reuters.

The last major destructive quake to hit Southern California was the 6.7 magnitude Northridge quake in 1994, which struck a densely populated area of Los Angeles. It killed 57 people and caused billions of dollars in property damage.

The comparatively limited damage from Friday’s quake, which packed greater force than the Northridge event, was a function of its location in a remote, less developed area.

Its ground motion, however, startled seismically jaded Southern Californians over a wide region.

Pools in Los Angeles sloshed wildly, and TV cameras at Dodger Stadium were shaking as they filmed the night Major League Baseball game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres.

A television anchorwoman ducked out of sight during a local newscast as shouts of “get under a desk” were heard in the background.

(Reporting by Alan Devall; Additional reporting by Bill Tarrant, Steve Gorman, Alex Dobuzinskis, Joseph Ax and Keith Coffman; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Toby Chopra, Will Dunham and David Gregorio)

Magnitude 4.8 earthquake in Sicily causes damage, injuries

St. Agata church is seen damaged by an earthquake, measuring magnitude 4.8, at the area north of Catania on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily, Italy, December 26, 2018. REUTERS/Antonio Parrinello

CATANIA, Italy (Reuters) – An earthquake with a magnitude of 4.8 hit an area north of Catania on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily early on Wednesday, damaging buildings and injuring about 30 people, officials said.

Fire fighters are seen next to a house damaged by an earthquake, measuring magnitude 4.8, at the area north of Catania on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily, Italy, December 26, 2018. REUTERS/Antonio Parrinello

Fire fighters are seen next to a house damaged by an earthquake, measuring magnitude 4.8, at the area north of Catania on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily, Italy, December 26, 2018. REUTERS/Antonio Parrinello

It occurred two days after Etna, Europe’s highest and most active volcano, erupted, sending a huge column of ash into the sky and causing the temporary closure of Catania airport on Sicily’s eastern coast.

The earthquake hit at 3:19 a.m. (0219 GMT), prompting many people to run out of their homes and sleep in cars. It was felt strongly because its epicenter was a relatively shallow one kilometer deep, officials said.

Television footage showed damage to older buildings in the towns of Santa Venerina and Zafferana Etnea. Several of the area’s centuries-old churches appeared to suffer the most damage. They were empty at the time of the quake.

About 30 people suffered injuries, mostly from falling masonry as they fled from their homes, officials said. About 10 were taken to hospital by ambulances, the others were taken by friends and family members. None of the injuries were serious.

(Writing by Philip Pullella; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Gareth Jones)

Magnitude 6.1 quake in Japan’s Osaka area kills three, stops factories

Smoke arise from a house where a fire breaks out, in Takatsuki, Osaka prefecture, western Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo June 18, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

By Kaori Kaneko and Malcolm Foster

TOKYO (Reuters) – A magnitude 6.1 earthquake shook Osaka, Japan’s second-biggest metropolis, early on Monday, killing three people, halting factory lines in an industrial area and bursting water mains, government and company officials said.

No tsunami warning was issued. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said authorities were assessing damage and their top priority was the safety of residents. About 150 people were injured, the broadcaster NHK said, lowering an earlier toll after a revision by city officials.

People cycle on a flooded road damaged after an earthquake hit Osaka, Japan June 18, 2018, in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. MANDATORY CREDIT. Twitter/@tw_hds/via REUTERS

People cycle on a flooded road damaged after an earthquake hit Osaka, Japan June 18, 2018, in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. MANDATORY CREDIT. Twitter/@tw_hds/via REUTERS

Live footage showed toppled walls, broken windows and gushing burst water mains after the quake hit Osaka, which will host next year’s Group of 20 summit, just before 8 a.m. (2300 GMT Sunday) as commuters were heading to work.

Quakes are common in Japan, part of the seismically active “Ring of Fire” that stretches from the South Pacific through Indonesia and Japan, across to Alaska and down the west coast of North, Central and South America.

The epicenter of Monday’s earthquake was just north of Osaka city at a depth of 13 km (8 miles), said the Japan Meteorological Agency. The agency originally put the magnitude at 5.9 but later raised it to 6.1.

The quake struck an important industrial area of central Japan.

Osaka-based Panasonic said it was halting production at three of its plants. Daihatsu Motor Co, a unit of Toyota Motor Corp, stopped its factories in Osaka and Kyoto while it checked for damage. It said it would resume operations at the Osaka plant on Monday evening.

Tractor maker Kubota Corp. said it halted two plants in the area, while air conditioner maker Daikin Industries Ltd suspended operations at two plants, one of which had restarted by noon.

Honda Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors said they were resuming operations after suspensions and safety checks. Sharp Corp also resumed work at a joint venture plant with parent Hon Hai Precision Industry that it had stopped for safety checks.

Three people were killed, authorities said. Collapsing walls killed a 9-year-old girl as she walked to school and a man in his 80s, Japanese media said. Another man in his 80s was killed when a bookcase fell on him.

A police officer stands guard at the site where a girl was killed by fallen wall caused by an earthquake at an elementary school in Takatsuki, Osaka prefecture, western Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo June 18, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN.

A police officer stands guard at the site where a girl was killed by fallen wall caused by an earthquake at an elementary school in Takatsuki, Osaka prefecture, western Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo June 18, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN.

‘TERRIFIED, CONFUSED’

“We were sleeping and it woke us up abruptly,” said Kate Kilpatrick, 19, an American who was staying in a hotel in Osaka when the quake hit.

“It was so terrifying because this is my first earthquake. I thought it was a nightmare because I was so confused,” she said. “The whole world was aggressively shaking.”

Kilpatrick, visiting Japan for the first time, said alarms went off almost immediately in the hotel and a loudspeaker told guests to stay away from windows.

No irregularities were detected at the Mihama, Takahama and Ohi nuclear plants to the north of Osaka, Kansai Electric Power said. More than 170,000 households in Osaka and neighboring Hyogo prefecture lost power temporarily but it was restored within two hours, the utility said.

Most trains in the Osaka area were still not running by late afternoon, police said.

Osaka prefecture, which includes the city and surrounding areas, has a population of 8.8 million. The city is close to Kobe, which was hit by a deadly magnitude 6.9 quake in 1995.

A massive 9.0 quake hit much further to the north in March 2011, triggering a huge tsunami that killed some 18,000 people and triggered the world’s worst nuclear disaster in a quarter of a century at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Japan introduced a law after the Kobe quake requiring owners of large buildings such as hotels and hospitals to have their buildings inspected for earthquake resistance.

(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko, Mari Saito, Kiyoshi Takenaka, Osamu Tsukimori, Makiko Yamazaki, Naomi Tajitsu and Linda Sieg; Writing by Malcolm Foster; Editing by Paul Tait and Darren Schuettler)

Magnitude 7.4 earthquake strikes Southern Japan

A woman reacts at a health and welfare center acting as an evacuation center after an earthquake in Mashiki town, Kumamoto prefecture, southern Japan

(Reuters) – A magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck southern Japan early on Saturday, just over 24 hours after a quake killed nine people and injured at least 1,000 in the same area.

The Saturday quake triggered a tsunami advisory, though it was later lifted and no irregularities were reported at three nuclear power plants in the area, Japanese media reported.

There were no immediate reports of casualties in the Saturday quake though there were several reports of damage, including some collapsed buildings and cracked roads.

The epicenter of the quake was near the city of Kumamoto and measured at a shallow depth of 10 km, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The quake on Thursday evening in the same region was of 6.4 magnitude.

“Thursday’s quake might have been a foreshock of this one,” Shinji Toda, a professor at Tohoku University, told national broadcaster NHK.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said the Saturday quake was 7.1 magnitude and it initially issued a tsunami advisory, which identifies the presence of a marine threat and asks people to leave coastal regions, for the Ariake and Yatsushiro seas.

NHK said the advisory suggested a possible wave of one meter in height. The advisory was later lifted.

Several aftershocks rattled the region later on Saturday, including one of 5.8 magnitude.

NHK quoted an official at a hospital near the epicenter as saying it had lost power after the Saturday quake and had to use its generators.

Most of the casualties in the Thursday quake came in the town of Mashiki, near the epicenter, where several houses collapsed.

A magnitude 9 quake in March 2011, to the north of Tokyo, touched off a massive tsunami and nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima. Nearly 20,000 people were killed in the tsunami.

(Reporting by Tokyo bureau; Writing by John Stonestreet; Editing by Robert Birsel and Martin Howell)