Reports of a 7.3 magnitude earthquake in Japan Friday sparked fears of a tsunami and potential nuclear plant damage, with the impact of the 9.0 magnitude 2011 Tohoku earthquake and ensuing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster still being felt in Japan’s energy landscape a year and a half later.
The latest quake occurred east of Sendai, Japan, not far from where the 2011 quake occurred, and authorities issued a tsunami warning that was lifted about two hours after the temblor struck. There were no reports of deaths or significant damage.
Nuclear plants closest to the epicenter were reporting no problems, according to a statement released by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The statement noted that the quake led to a 1-meter (3.3-foot) rise in sea level in some places, but no emergency measures were activated.
Japan’s nuclear plants remain largely dormant after the Fukushima disaster led to enduring controversy about the future of nuclear power in the country. Just hours before the quake, Japan’s nuclear regulatory agency said it could restart additional reactors as early as next summer. Currently just two of the country’s 50 employable reactors are online; those were restarted in July amid protests. (See related story: “Japan’s Nuclear Restart Generates Power, Protest“)
As a parliamentary election approaches Dec. 16, a senior member of Japan’s opposition party, Hiroyuki Hosoda, has called for a restart of reactors as soon as they are deemed safe. Nuclear power provided approximately one third of Japan’s electric power before the 2011 quake, and Japan has relied on imports of LNG, efficiency measures, and development of renewables to make up the shortfall. Japan recently has been in conflict with China over potential oil and gas assets beneath the East China Sea, which could provide Japan with its first significant store of domestic fossil fuel. (See related story: “Why Are China and Japan Sparring Over Eight Tiny, Uninhabited Islands?“)