UpdateJapan quake, tsunami kill more than 200, disrupt petchems

11 March 2011 15:09  [Source: ICIS news]

(Releads and adds details throughout)

By Tomomi Yokomura

Smoke rises in Tokyo after massive earthquakeTOKYO (ICIS)--More than 200 people have been killed and hundreds more are missing after the biggest earthquake in Japan’s history struck on Friday, generating a massive tsunami.

The 8.9-magnitude quake struck Japan’s northeast coast at 14:46 local time (05:46GMT), some 373 km (231 miles) northeast of Tokyo, and 130km east of Sendai, Honshu – the largest island in the country, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS).

It caused a huge tsunami with waves up to 10 metres high, which swept inland destroying buildings and infrastructure, and paralysing refining and petrochemical operations.

There was a major explosion at a petrochemical complex in Shiogama, Miyagi prefecture and the facility is currently on fire, according to local media reports

An uncontrolled fire at the Ichihara petrochemical complex in Chiba prefecture had still not been extinguished as of 22:50 local time, television news footage showed.

There was also a fire at the chemical factory of JFE Chemical in the Chuo ward in the city of Chiba, Chiba prefecture, as well as at the 220,000 bbl/day refinery of Cosmo Oil, at the city of Ichihara in the same region. No one was available for comment at either company.

JFE Chemical produces coal tar, benzene, toluene and xylene and industrial gases including oxygen, nitrogen and argon. Chiba prefecture is one of Japan’s petrochemical hubs.

JX Nippon Oil & Energy shut its paraxylene facilities in Kashima, with a combined capacity of 600,000 tonnes/year and in Kawasaki with a combined capacity of 350,000 tonnes/year, market sources said.

Meanwhile, a source close to the company said that three of JX Nippon Oil’s refineries were down - a 145,000 bbl/day unit at Sendai in Miyagi prefecture, a 189,000 bbl/day crude oil refinery at Kashima in Ibaraki prefecture and a 270,000 bbl/day unit at Negishi, Kanagawa prefecture.

Mitsui Chemicals and Mitsubishi Chemical operate chemical plants in Kashima, Ibaraki prefecture, and Ichihara. A spokesman for Mitsubishi Chemical said all of its petrochemical sites in Kashima had closed down.

"It is unclear if there has been any damage. We have to wait until there is daylight to see. However, it was a safe shutdown and there has been no fire, leakages or explosions."

The spokesman, speaking by telephone from Japan, said timings for a restart were not yet known. 

The company has two other petrochemical facilities at Yokkaichi and Mizushima further west, but these have been unaffected and are operating normally.

Telephone lines and power are down in some parts of the affected area, making it difficult to check on operations of other petrochemical plants.

A state of emergency was declared at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) when the cooling system failed in a reactor following an automatic shutdown, leading to the evacuation of nearby residents.

It is not clear which ports are closed, but the Port of Kobe in Hyogo prefecture in western Japan is operating normally, a port official confirmed by telephone.

Stock markets in Asia fell as the natural disaster compounded investors' concerns over unrest in Saudi Arabia.

The Bank of Japan said in a statement that it will continue to assess the possible impact of the earthquake and is ready to take action as necessary

Crude and naphtha prices also fell over fears of a temporary fall in demand from Japan.

Transport has been paralysed in the area with rail and airport closures, leaving thousands of people stranded.

According to local media reports, 200-300 bodies have been found in the port city of Sendai.

A tsunami warning was put in place across the Pacific to North and South America, but that has now been lifted for Taiwan and New Zealand.

Additional reporting byPearl Bantillo, Mahua Chakravarty, Clive Ong, Helen Yan, Felicia Loo, Bohan Loh, James Dennis, Tahir Ikram, Nurluqman Suratman, Becky Zhang and Peh Soo Hwee

By: Tomomi Yokomura
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