Tsunami alert as new quake hits eastern coastline

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The Independent Online

Japan woke up to panic this morning after a 6.5 magnitude earthquake on the country's eastern coast triggered a tsunami alert across the country.

The alert was prompted by a quake that the US Geological Survey measured near the east coast of Honshu late last night. There were no immediate reports of injuries, but the incident spurred Japan's Meteorological Agency to warn that a tsunami of up to 1.6 feet could wash into Miyagi Prefecture. The USGS said the quake was 3.7 miles deep.

It came after emergency workers fled from one of Fukushima's stricken nuclear reactors yesterday, after contaminated water in the cooling system was apparently found to be 10 million times more radioactive than normal, only for officials to later say that the reading might have been inaccurate.

The latest confusion in the battle to bring Japan's nuclear crisis under control came as villagers near the plant complained that they were being kept in the dark over radiation risks.

The technician who took the reading at reactor No 2 yesterday was so alarmed by the numbers that the team fled the building before taking a second measurement. And later, a spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power Co, the operator of the Fukushima plant, said: "There is a suspicion that the reading ... is too high, so we are redoing our tests... We are very sorry for the inconvenience."

Highly radioactive pools of water have formed inside all four of the damaged reactors, officials said. After previously downplaying fears of a serious breach in any of the reactors, Yukio Edano, the cabinet secretary and the face of the government throughout the crisis, said it "almost certainly" had happened.

The mayor of Iitate village told The Independent yesterday that the government had not told him that, thanks to strong winds, his area had been among the worst hit since the disaster began.

The government had maps and data from its own pollution modelling system, Speedi, which showed that high levels of airborne pollution had been reaching Iitate since 12 March, despite the village being 40km from the plant. "Why didn't they tell us?" the mayor, Norio Kanno, asked. "I had to find out from the newspapers."

Soil samples taken from the farming community registered 1.17 million becquerels. No legal limit exists for soil samples, but one scientist contacted by The Independent said the number was "dangerously high". Almost half of Iitate's 7,000 villagers have fled the area but the rest remain, waiting for official confirmation of any health risk. The mayor complained that the zones had been set up in circles while the airborne pollution was moving in different shapes, driven by the wind.