• Kyodo


The government’s earthquake research panel on Tuesday warned of a possibly “impending” magnitude 9 class quake in the Pacific off the eastern coast of Hokkaido that would likely trigger a massive tsunami.

A huge earthquake occurred about 400 years ago off eastern Hokkaido, an area that has seen large temblors in a cycle of every 340 to 380 years. The last mega-quake caused tsunami over 20 meters high and flooded about 4 kilometers inland from the coast, according to research by Hokkaido University.

The chances are high that another large earthquake is “impending” in the area, the panel said in a long-term quake projection report released Tuesday.

The panel, headed by University of Tokyo professor Naoshi Hirata, predicts there is a 7 percent to 40 percent chance of an magnitude 9.0 class earthquake occurring in the next 30 years.

Making predictions for specific locations off the eastern coast of Hokkaido, the panel estimates that a smaller-scale quake, measuring magnitude 8.0 to 8.6, has a 70 percent chance of occurring off Nemuro during the same period, and a 60 percent chance of happening off the islands of Shikotan and Etorofu, which are held by Russia but claimed by Japan.

The panel also warned that the next possible massive earthquake could be large enough to affect neighboring Aomori Prefecture, which is home to nuclear power plants.

Hirata’s team, in cooperation with the Cabinet Office, will evaluate the height of the expected tsunami from the next huge earthquake and the likely seismic intensities in the affected areas.

Japan’s science and technology minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told a news conference, “We are hoping this report will help local municipal governments to make necessary preparations and raise households’ awareness of disaster risk.”

The panel also revised its estimation of the length of a major active fault in western Japan, saying it has found that the central geotectonic belt is longer than previously thought, stretching westward from the Kinki region to Oita Prefecture in Kyushu by crossing the Shikoku region.

The fault belt is now estimated to be 444 km in length, instead of the 360 km previously thought, the panel said, adding that the revision was made due to the discovery of new mechanics under the seabed in the area.

The panel estimates there is a 9 percent to 15 percent chance that active faults around the area will cause a magnitude 6.8 or bigger quake in inland Shikoku in the next 30 years.