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By Associated Press / March 9, 2011
A magnitude-6.3 earthquake struck off east coast of Honshu, Japan, on Thursday morning, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. No tsunami alert was issued.
There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.
A day earlier, a magnitude 7.3 earthquake off Japan's northeast coast shook buildings hundreds of miles (kilometers) away in Tokyo and triggering a small tsunami, but casued no significant damage or injuries.
The 4:44 a.m. Thursday (1844 GMT Wednesday) quake was shallow, some 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) below the surface, the USGS said.
The USGS said the quake hit some 126 miles (203 kilometers) east of Sendai, in Honshu, Japan, and about 272 miles (438 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo.
Japan lies on the "Ring of Fire" — an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones that stretches around the Pacific Rim and where about 90 percent of the world's quakes occur.
“The energy radiated by this quake is nearly equal to one month’s worth of energy consumption” in the United States, U.S. Geological Survey Scientist Brian Atwater told the Associated Press.
The electrical grid is down. The emergency diesel generators have been damaged. The multi-reactor Fukushima atomic power plant is now relying on battery power, which will only last around 8 hours. The Magnitude 8.9 quake hit 10 hours ago followed by two aftershocks of magnitudes 6.8 and 7.1 nine hours ago. It is unclear which of these damaged the reactor cooling system or when the battery power was turned on. The danger is, the very thermally hot reactor cores at the plant must be continuously cooled for 24 to 48 hours. Without any electricity, the pumps won't be able to pump water through the hot reactor cores to cool them. Once electricity is lost, the irradiated nuclear fuel could begin to melt down i8n as little as an hour. If the containment systems fail, a catastrophic radioactivity release to the environment could occur. In addition to the reactor cores, the storage pool for highly radioactive irradiated nuclear fuel is also at risk. The pool cooling water must be continuously circulated. Without circulation, the still thermally hot irradiated nuclear fuel in the storage pools will begin to boil off the cooling water. Within a day or two, the pool's water could completely boil away. Without cooling water, the irradiated nuclear fuel could spontaneously combust in an exothermic reaction. Since the storage pools are not located within containment, a catastrophic radioactivity release to the environment could occur. Up to 100% of the volatile radioactive Cesium-137 content of the pools could go up in flames and smoke, to blow downwind over large distances. Given the large quantity of irradiated nuclear fuel in the pool, the radioactivity release could be worse than the Chernobyl nuclear reactor catastrophe of 25 years ago.
David Applegate, a senior science adviser for earthquake and geologic hazards for the U.S. Geological Survey, said the 8.9-magnitude quake ruptured a patch of the earth's crust 150 miles long and 50 miles across.