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Another earthquake shakes Japan, Fukushima evacuated: a nuclear timeline

A month after the March 11, a 9.0 earthquake triggered a 30-foot tsunami that damaged several nuclear reactors in northeastern Japan, causing the country's worst crisis since World War II, a 7.4 temblor shook the country again.

By Staff Writer / March 15, 2011

Members of the Japan Grounf Self-Defense Force search a tsunami damaged part of Ofunato, Japan on Tuesday, March 15. Two search and rescue teams from the US and a team from the UK with combined numbers of around 220 personnel, searched damaged areas of the town of Ofunato for trapped survivors Tuesday in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami.

Matt Dunham/AP

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Day 1 – Friday, March 11

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  • At 2:47 p.m. local time, Japan is struck by the largest recorded earthquake in its history off the coast of the northeastern city of Sendai. Meteorologists log it at 8.9 on the Richter scale.
  • 11 nuclear reactors shut down automatically.
  • A powerful tsunami triggered by the earthquake sweeps away cars and homes and knocks out regular and backup cooling systems at the six-reactor Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Several reactors are affected.
  • The government orders everyone within a three kilometer radius of the plant to leave the area.
  • Japanese authorities report that a fire at the Onagawa nuclear power plant is extinguished.

Day 2 – Saturday, March 12

  • A blast caused by a pressure buildup blows the roof off the containment structure of the Fukushima Daiichi plant's Unit 1 reactor, but reports say the nuclear fuel rods are not affected. Four workers are reported injured.
  • Residents within a 6-mile radius of the plant are evacuated. Kyodo news agency estimates that 20,000 people are being evacuated.
  • Workers begin injecting seawater and boric acid into the reactors in what experts say is a last-ditch attempt to prevent a meltdown after the backup cooling systems for reactors 1 and 3 fail completely.

Day 3 – Sunday, March 13

  • Fukushima reactor No. 3 is vented again.
  • There is believed to have been a partial meltdown in the reactor.
  • A company spokesman states that the radiation released thus far does not pose a health risk to humans.
  • The cooling system in reactor 2 fails and more radioactive steam is released.
  • The government evacuates more than 200,000 residents from homes within a 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) radius of the plant and tests 160 people for radiation exposure, authorities said Sunday.
  • IAEA rates the accident as a level four out of seven on the scale of international nuclear disasters. Three-Mile-Island was rated a five, Chernobyl a seven.
  • Meanwhile, in southwestern Japan, Shinmoedake volcano erupts for the second time in 2011, sending ash and rock more than two miles into the air. Analysts say it was the biggest volcanic activity there in 52 years.
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