Magnitude 9 earthquake sparked mankind’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl
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A huge magnitude 9.0 earthquake that triggered one of the worst nuclear power station incidents in history is still being felt today, more than a decade after disaster struck.
The quake off the coast of Japan and its resulting tsunami led to a series of meltdowns at the massive Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant this month, 12 years ago.
It was the worst incident at a nuclear power station since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in what was then the USSR.
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Tens of thousands of people were evacuated from the surrounding area amid contamination fears, and work to deal with the triple reactor meltdowns is set to go on for years.
The enormous earthquake – one of the most powerful in history – happened at about 2.45pm local time on March 11.
Three of the six reactors at the Fukushima power plant – which was one of the 15 largest in the world – were already shut down and the other three were shut down automatically when the quake hit.
But the massive 46ft-high tsunami breached the plant’s seawalls and knocked out the generators that were cooling the reactors and spent fuel pods.
It led to a series of explosions and nuclear meltdowns over the next few weeks while the authorities worked desperately to bring the situation under control.
Nearly 85,000 people were evacuated from towns and villages up to 20 miles from the plant – all at a time when the country was already in absolute chaos following the earthquake.
The government imposed a no-go area zone that extended to 12 miles from the plant and people could enter it only under government supervision.
In August 2013, more than two years after the disaster happened, officials admitted that 300 tons a day of radioactive water was leaking into the Pacific Ocean.
Boffins reckon that 150 square miles of the ocean floor have been contaminated by the leaks.
Work to deal with the aftermath of the disaster is expected to go on for several decades yet with around 2,000 deaths so far linked to the incident.
Last year, the government gave the green light for masses of radioactive water to be dumped into the Pacific Ocean over the next 30 years.
The water is currently being stored in hundreds of massive tanks at the site, but Tepco – the company that operates the plant – says it needs to clear them so that decommission work can start.
It insists that the water will be released into the Pacific only when its radioactivity is reduced to safe levels.
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The earthquake happened about 45 miles off the coast of Japan and lasted for about six minutes.
It was the fourth most powerful quake recorded since 1900, resulting in an official death toll of nearly 20,000.
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