A volcano on a small southern Japanese island erupted suddenly this morning, sending plumes of ash and rock as high as 9,000 meters (almost 30,000 feet) and prompting authorities to issue the highest level alert warning. Local officials said that 140 residents have been evacuated and that there have been no casualties. Some flights have been diverted.
Mount Shindake on Kuchinoerabujima island has been the site of several eruptions before, including one last August. Here’s the peak erupting today.
Experts worry that not enough is being done to anticipate volcanic eruptions in Japan, which sits on the so-called “Ring of Fire” of volcanoes in the Pacific basin. The bulk of monitoring falls on university researchers. Japan has only 47 dedicated to volcano monitoring, compared to Italy’s 150. Seismologists had noted increased activity under Japan’s Mount Ontake, but were shocked when it exploded last September, killing 57 hikers.
One additional concern about the Mount Shindake eruption is its proximity the soon to be re-started Kyushu Electric Power Sendai nuclear plant. The island is about 130k (70 miles) from Japan’s Kyushu island, where the nuclear plant cleared the last regulatory step only this week.
Volcanologists have voiced concern over whether the Sendai plant could be affected by eruptions in the region. Pyroclastic flow, or fast-moving clouds of hot gas, ash and rock, typically travel at speeds greater than 80km/hr and may be able to reach as far as 145km (90 miles) from the site of explosion.
The power company and other observers say the eruption won’t impact the plant.