TOKYO—The Japanese government issued an official emergency at one of the country's nuclear plants Friday after a massive earthquake automatically shut down its reactors and caused problems with its cooling system, but said there are currently no reports of radiation leakage.
"There are no reports of leakage from any nuclear power plants at the moment and no signs of any leakage," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Friday. As a result of the state of emergency, the government will set up a special emergency task force to deal with the situation.
At Tokyo Electric Power's Fukushima Daiichi plant, three reactors shut down automatically as designed after a magnitude 8.9 earthquake struck off the northeast of Japan on Friday afternoon. The quake also caused diesel-powered generators used to cool the reactors to stop operating, leaving the utility company with a shortage of coolant to bring the reactors to a safe temperature.
Meanwhile, the three reactors at Tohoku Electric Power Co.'s Onagawa plant in Miyagi, near the epicenter of the quake, also shut down automatically. A few hours later, the company said that it observed smoke coming from the building housing the No. 1 reactor at the plant. The company said it is still checking the safety of the reactor, but said there has been no reported leakage of radioactive substances.
French nuclear engineering group Areva said it hasn't been informed of any impact on its installations in the country. The company operates a joint venture with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and Mitsubishi Corp. specialized in nuclear fuel called MNF, as well as a zirconium making plant, Cezus, which is a fully owned unit of Areva.
All other Japanese power companies operating nuclear power plants in the country said their facilities are operating normally.
Tokyo Electric filed a report after the shutdown with central and local government authorities. Such reports are filed when there are possibilities of radioactive leakage that may force evacuation of residents, or other emergencies, such as a loss of coolant needed to cool reactors.
Three reactors, with a combined generation capacities of 2.03 million kilowatts, are part of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, located on the Pacific coast in Fukushima prefecture north of Tokyo. The plant's three other reactors weren't operating at the time of the earthquake due to a routine checkup.
Tokyo Electric is the operator of Japan's largest nuclear power plant, known as Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, which was shut down for an extended period after a 2007 earthquake that devastated Niigata prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast. The loss of its generation capacity sent Tepco scurrying to boost generation at its thermal power plants. High costs of purchasing fuel oil hurt the company's earnings sharply. It also raised questions about building large nuclear power plants in earth-quake prone areas of the country. That plant wasn't affected by the latest quake.