Niigata marks 10th anniversary of deadly quake that rattled nuclear safety myth

Kyodo

A memorial service was held Sunday in Niigata Prefecture to mark the 10th anniversary of the deadly earthquake that killed 15 people and left more than 2,300 injured in the region that hosts the world’s largest nuclear power plant.

At the ceremony, jointly hosted by the prefecture, the city of Kashiwazaki and the village of Kariwa, residents and family members of the deceased observed a moment of silence at 10:13 a.m., the time when the quake struck.

The quake, which originated in the Sea of Japan and had a magnitude of 6.8, injured 2,346 people in Niigata and adjacent Nagano and Toyama prefectures, some seriously. It also damaged about 44,000 houses and forced 12,000 people to evacuate.

“We have kept moving toward reconstruction with the spirit of mutual support,” said Kashiwazaki Mayor Masahiro Sakurai. “I am utterly committed to making an attractive hometown.”

Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama said, “It is our responsibility to broadly transmit and hand down our experiences and lessons, as large-scale earthquakes are repeatedly occurring nationwide.”

A man whose father died in the quake said the past 10 years have passed in the blink of an eye.

“My heart aches, feeling that this time has come again,” the man said.

The ceremony was joined by Tomoaki Kobayakawa, president of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., which manages the seven-reactor Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power station.

The July 16 quake caused the four active reactors at the plant, which was just 16 km from the quake’s epicenter, into emergency shutdowns. The rest were not operating at the time.

The plant, which leaked a small amount of radioactive water into the Sea of Japan after a transformer caught fire as a result of the quake, was shut down for nearly two years after experts found it had not been designed to withstand quakes that powerful.