A Barrel of Gaffes
Earthquake causes nuclear headaches in Japan
A strong earthquake hit northwestern Japan yesterday morning, and aftershocks continued into the night. The 6.8-magnitude quake killed at least nine people, injured more than 900 others, and flattened houses and highways. It also led to a fire, leak, and waste spills at a powerful nuclear plant. The Kashiwazaki Kariwa facility, which produces the most electricity of any nuclear plant in the world, shut down during the event, but not before a transformer caught on fire and a reactor ruptured, sending about 315 gallons of radioactive water into the sea. The trembling also toppled at least 100 barrels of nuclear waste stored on site. Company officials delayed, then downplayed news of the damage, saying there was little environmental risk. But others in the country, which is home to 55 nuclear reactors, were left feeling uneasy. Weakness in the face of quakes is, said Aileen Mioko Smith of the Japan-based eco-group Green Action, “the Achilles heel of nuclear power plants.” Or one of them, anyway.