A 6.1-magnitude earthquake hit the northeast coast of Japan, just 200 miles east of the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant.
The earthquake occurred just before 12 p.m. EDT on Wednesday (the middle of the night in Japan) and was about six miles deep, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Its epicenter was near that of the huge 2011 earthquake that led to a tsunami and caused a nuclear meltdown in Japan. The USGS also estimated that most people in its vicinity felt “weak” shaking. The closest city was Kamaishi, 175 miles away.
As of yet, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center has not issued a tsunami warning.
In March 2011, Japan was hit by a 9-magnitude earthquake that triggered a tsunami with waves up to 128 feet high that killed 16,000 people and flooded the Fukushima nuclear power plant, causing a catastrophic nuclear disaster—the worst since Chernobyl. The clean-up is not complete: It is expected to take 30 to 40 years and cost $189 billion. The Guardian reported in February that one damaged reactor was at its highest radiation level since the meltdown. Newsweek reported in July that the Fukushima power plant announced it would be dumping nuclear waste into the ocean.
The waves flooded back-up generators in the plant that were used to cool nuclear reactors, and 500,000 people in a 12-mile radius had to be evacuated. Many parts of the world tightened their nuclear safety codes and regulations after Fukushima, to attempt to ensure that even a worst-case scenario like that in Japan could not lead to another nuclear disaster. In the United States, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission implemented “post-Fukushima requirements” that include regular safety improvements in the 61 nuclear power plants in operation and 99 nuclear reactors across the country.
The 2011 earthquake hit closer to the power plant, was much stronger—one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded—and had a much deeper epicenter, 18 miles. Japan is situated at the juncture of four tectonic plates, so noticeable earthquakes are common for the region, and the country’s buildings and emergency planning procedures are generally prepared for them.
The Wednesday quake was the second powerful temblor this week, after a 7.1-magnitude event killed over 200 people in Mexico City on Tuesday. Just before the quake, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Japan announced the country was sending its Japan Disaster Relief Search and Rescue Team to Mexico to help with rescue operations. “In light of the friendly relations between Japan and Mexico,” the ministry wrote in a release, “Japan decided to provide emergency assistance to Mexico from a humanitarian viewpoint.”