A “once-in-a-decade” typhoon has hit the Japanese coast, and while its winds weakened from a peak of 130-156 mph—Category 4 status—heavy rain and landslides have claimed 17 lives on Oshima Island and caused over 20,000 to evacuate from Japan’s eastern coast. Meanwhile the threat of flooding and storm surge brought about by typhoon Wipha has put the operators of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on alert as efforts are undertaken to prevent further leaks of irradiated water.


typhoon wipha, japan, natural disaster, typhoon, rainfall, flooding, fukushima, oshima islandOshima Island, 2011, (cc) Kzaral on Flickr

Typhoon Wipha is the strongest storm to hit Japan since Typhoon Tokage in October 2004, and its path put much of the east coast of Japan on alert—an area that includes 35 million people and spans small outer-lying islands, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and the capital city of Tokyo.

So far the worst damage has been reported on Oshima Island, which sits around 75 miles south of Tokyo. A river on the small island breached its banks under the pressure of heavy rainfall, which in turn created a “mile-long mudslide” that caused the collapse of homes in its path. So far 17 have been confirmed dead, and a further 50 are believed to be missing.

Speaking to Bloomberg, Japanese Meteorological Agency official Hiroyuki Uchida noted: “This is the largest typhoon to approach the Kanto area in about 10 years.” Over 16,000 people remain without power, and thousands are stranded as a result of the cancellation of over 500 flights and all bullet trains in central and northern Japan.

The operators of the beleaguered Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, Tepco, put 60 workers “on vigil” at the storm grazed the coastline, who are working to prevent any further leaks of radioactive water from the facility. Storage tanks have been vulnerable to overflowing as a result of both human error and heavy rainfall.

Prior to the weaker typhoon Man-yi in September, Tepco came under fire for draining “lightly” irradiated water into the sea in an effort to prevent overflow of storage containers. But as Wipha approached, the Wall Street Journal reports that Japan’s nuclear watchdog has allowed Tepco to do the same thing again because of a shortage of time for storm preparations.

Tepco claims that with these somewhat dubious precautions taken, they have prevented any further disaster. According to Bloomberg, Tepco “is close to completing a discharge of accumulated rainwater in areas where tanks used to hold water for cooling nuclear fuel are stored, spokesman Hiroshi Itagaki said today by phone. There were no reports of contaminated water leaks due to the typhoon, he said.” With Tepco’s ever-faltering credibility, however, this is particularly hard to believe at this stage.

Via Bloomberg, Quartz

Lead image © NASA via AOL