UpdateAnother earthquake hits Japan as death toll exceeds 200

11 March 2011 22:56  [Source: ICIS news]

(releads and adds details throughout)Smoke rises in Tokyo after massive earthquake

By Tomomi Yokomura

TOKYO (ICIS)--Another earthquake hit Japan early on Saturday - this time in the Nagano prefecture in the northern part of the country.

This earthquake had a magnitude of 6.7, hitting at about 3:59 local time (18:59 GMT), an official said in a press conference. The official did not say if the earthquake caused any damage.

On Friday, an 8.9-magnitude quake struck Japan’s northeast coast at 14:46, 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 tsunami that generated waves up to 10 metres high, and 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 caught fire, according to local media reports

Meanwhile, the petrochemical complexes in Ichihara, Chiba prefecture, and Sendai, Miyagi prefecture, were still on fire 15 hours after the first quake, television footage showed.

A gas manufacturing plant in Tagajo, adjacent to Sendai, was also on fire following an explosion on Friday, local media reported.

Reuters reported that Maruzen Petrochemical shut its naphtha cracker at Chiba. It has a capacity of 480,000 tonnes/year of ethylene.

Maruzen's Keiyo Ethylene unit shut a 690,000 tonne/year naphtha cracker in Chiba, Reuters reported

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, inthe 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, Ibaraki prefecture, 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, a 189,000 bbl/day crude oil refinery at Kashima and a 270,000 bbl/day unit at Negishi, Kanagawa prefecture.

Mitsui Chemicals and Mitsubishi Chemical operate chemical plants in Kashima 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.

In a statement, Dow Chemical said that the impact to its plants and personnel have been minimal so far.

The company did receive reports of flooding at its Soma facility. However, there were no injuries or environmental incidents to report.

DuPont had received no reports of injuries, although one of its facilities did have minor damage.

Both DuPont and Dow were still gathering information as communications have been limited.

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.

Tokyo Electric Power had said it may release radioactive vapour from the reactor to lower the pressure in the unit. The release should not affect residents, as the wind as blowing towards the ocean and the vapour was only slightly radioactive.

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 said by telephone.

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 has been lifted for Taiwan and New Zealand.

The waves have started arriving on the shores of the Americas, and petrochemical producers on the Pacific coast are on alert.

So far, the only reported plant disruption in the Americas was a caustic soda plant in Callao, Peru. The plant will shut down for seven or eight hours starting at 16:00 Peru time (21:00 GMT) as a precautionary measure.

The plant was expected to restart immediately afterwards, sources said.

Additional reporting by Pearl Bantillo, Mahua Chakravarty, Clive Ong, Helen Yan, Felicia Loo, Bohan Loh, James Dennis, Tahir Ikram, Nurluqman Suratman, Becky Zhang, Peh Soo Hwee, Al Greenwood and Ben DuBose

By: Tomomi Yokomura
+65 6780 4359

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