Did quake or tsunami cause Fukushima meltdown?

Japan’s nuclear safety agency today rejected a claim in British newspaper The Independent that the earthquake itself, not the subsequent tsunami, destroyed cooling systems leading to meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

“It is not correct,” a spokesman for Japan’s nuclear safety watchdog, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), told New Scientist.

The claim made in The Independent contradicts public reassurances from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) , the company that owns the plant, that its facility stood up to the quake as it should, but was overwhelmed by the tsunami. If the quake did cause the damage, it could call into question the resilience of TEPCO’s other nuclear installations in Japan. TEPCO and Japan’s nuclear industry as a whole have been criticised for attempting to cover up accidents in the past.

The paper reported that workers said they had seen cooling-water pipes bursting as they were evacuating from the nuclear plant following the quake at 2.52 pm on 11 March – before the tsunami struck about 45 minutes later.

It also quoted nuclear engineers who concluded from data released by TEPCO that coolant systems must have failed shortly after the quake.

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