At least four people were killed and 140 injured in an aftershock of magnitude 7.4 that struck northeastern Japan on Thursday night but the crisis-stricken nuclear plant in Fukushima was spared from further damage.
Another quake hit Japan on Thursday
An aftershock that occurred just before midnight Japanese time sparked three fires in the tsunami-hit prefectures of Miyagi and Yamagata. Some train services had to be suspended and more than 8,000 houses were left without water and gas.
Two companies in the area were forced to stop production because of power cuts and the shock also affected some mobile phone connections and landline phone services in north-eastern Japan.
The Japanese Meteorological Agency initially issued a tsunami warning to the coastal areas of Miyagi and other regions but it was lifted shortly afterwards. Although no visible tsunami was detected, the agency has warned that another big aftershock could hit the same region.
There was a brief scare on Friday when water was found to be leaking at the Onagawa nuclear plant in Miyagi Prefecture. The plant’s operator reported that blowout panels, which are supposed to control the pressure inside the building, had been damaged. However, Japan's nuclear safety body said it had not detected any change in radiation levels. The plant has not been in operation since the earthquake on March 11.
The IAEA said it had not detected any change in radiation levels since the aftershock
Signs of recovery in Fukushima
Meanwhile, in the operator of the damaged nuclear plant in Fukushima TEPCO said the aftershock had not caused any more harm. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also said it had not detected any change in radiation levels since Thursday.
“The situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant remains very serious, (but) there are early signs of recovery in some functions such as electrical power and instrumentation," the IAEA's head of nuclear safety Denis Flory said.
He added that radiation levels which had peaked right after the disaster in March had fallen. He said Japan’s neighbors had no reason for concern.
TEPCO continues to inject nitrogen into one of its Fukushima reactors to prevent a repeat of last month's hydrogen explosions.
Japan faces severe economic problems
Following last month’s chain of disasters, the government faces severe economic problems.
The country’s central bank said that output and exports were expected to remain week because of the impact of the earthquake. As a major exporter with reduced industrial output, Japan's economic crisis will continue to affect supply chains around the world.
The chain of disasters in Japan has put further strain on the economy
Moreover, with the nation's largest nuclear plant crippled, the government has urged to cut back the use of electricity in the summer when there is usually peak demand. Major companies will have to cut use by up to 25 percent. This means that the Tokyo Stock Exchange will have to delay plans to extend trading hours.
However, some ministers have called for an end to a campaign of "self-restraint" by individuals who, ever since the beginning of the crisis, have felt the need to cut fuel or electricity use and have also discouraged the stockpiling of necessities.
They say excessive self-restraint could worsen the economy and weaken reconstruction efforts.
Author: Anggatira Gollmer (Reuters, dpa, AFP)
Editor: Anne Thomas