Fire breaks out at nuclear power plant after Japanese quake

Japanese government reported to have declared a nuclear power emergency situation after 8.9 magnitude earthquake and 10-metre tsunami

Part of houses swallowed by tsunami burn in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture (state) after Japan was struck by a strong earthquake off its northeastern coast Friday, March 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Kyodo News) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT, FOR COMMERCIAL USE ONLY IN NORTH AMERICA *** Local Caption ***  TOK823_Japan_Earthquake.jpg
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A  fire has broken out at one of Japan's nuclear power plants after the 8.9 magnitude earthquake that struck the country today, according to news agency reports.

The fire is reported to be at Tohoku Electricity’s Onagawa plant. The Japanese government has declared a nuclear power emergency situation, the news agency Jiji said, quoting the Japanese defence ministry .

However, the UN nuclear watchdog in Vienna saidthe four Japanese nuclear power plants closest to the earthquake have been safely shut down. "The four Japanese nuclear power plants closest to the quake have been safely shut down," the agency said in a statement, adding it was liaising with the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on further details of the situation.

All Japanese ports have closed close, with discharge operations halted, after the earthquake and the resultant tsunami, shippers say. A  tsunami 10 metres high hit the port in Sendai, northern Japan, with Sendai airport subsequently flooded, according to television reports. The  tsunami swept away everything in its path, including houses, ships and cars. Several other airports, including Tokyo's Narita, were closed and rail services halted.

Tokyo Electric Power said the power had been cut to 4 million homes. Among other reports of damage, Japanese media reported a fire at JFE Holdings' steel plant in Chiba. JFE, the world's fifth-largest steelmaker, said there was no major impact. Cosmo Oil said its Chiba refinery had been hit by a fire in storage tank, and it was still working to extinguish it. JX Nippon Oil, Japan's top refiner, halted operations at three refineries in Sendai, Kashima and Negishi, Jiji News said. Television showed black smoke pouring out of an industrial area in Yokohama's Isogo area.

By 2pm UAE time at least 22 people were reported killed in the earthquake, the biggest to hit Japan in 140 years.

Electronics giant Sony, one of the country's biggest exporters, shut six factories, while Toyota said it had halted production at a parts factory and two assembly plants in the area, and Nissan, the country's second-largest automaker, stopped operations at four factories, media reported.

Experts are predicting that the earthquake will have a serious effect on Japan’s economy, which the Bank of Japan has been struggling to revive. With Japanese interest rates already near zero, analysts said the central bank and the government had few options but to inject more money into the economy, even if it risked swelling the already bloated deficit.

Tsutomu Yamada, a market analysts at Securities. said: "The extent of the damage is hard to tell but it seems devastating for the northern Japan economy. The government must act quickly to announce support packages and the central bank should pump more money into the economy,"

The earthquake in 1995 that devastated Kobe in Japan caused $100 billion in damage.

A tsunami warning has been issued for the entire Pacific basin except the mainland United States and Canada following a huge earthquake that hit Japan on Friday, the U.S. Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said.

The warning includes Hawaii and extends from Mexico down to South American countries on the Pacific, the centre said.