The Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant seen from the coast of Futaba town in Fukushima prefecture. ( AFP / KAZUHIRO NOGI)

Social media users share misleading Fukushima plant claim after Japan earthquake

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After a 7.3-magnitude earthquake hit eastern Japan, Korean-language social media posts viewed hundreds of thousands of times shared two images alongside a claim that a large fire broke out at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. This is misleading; the plant's Japanese operator said although a fire alarm went off on March 16, 2022, no fire or smoke was detected. The posts shared two images unrelated to the recent earthquake -- one shows a Japanese oil refinery following an earthquake in 2011, and the other relates to an attack on a Tokyo train in 2021.

"[Breaking News] Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant swept up in a red blaze", reads the Korean-language text on a graphic shared here on Facebook on March 24, 2022.

"If you do not want to die, you must escape.' Emergency evacuation order issued in Fukushima."

The photo on the left-hand side appears to show a fire at a power plant. Text in the top left-hand corner translates as "current situation".

The photo on the right-hand side shows multiple firefighters wearing protective gear.

A screenshot of the misleading claim shared on Facebook, captured on March 25, 2022.

The same graphic was also shared on Facebook here and here.

A video on YouTube that used the graphic as a thumbnail was viewed more than 280,000 times.

The posts circulated online in South Korea, where protests were staged in 2021 over the Japanese government's decision to release water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea.

The graphic was shared online after a powerful 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Japan's eastern Fukushima region on the evening of March 16.

The quake cut power to at least two million households in Japan and set off tsunami advisories for parts of the country's northeast coast, AFP reported

However, the claim that a fire broke out at the nuclear power plant is misleading.

Fire alarm

Japanese electricity provider TEPCO, which operates the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, issued a statement saying that two fire alarms went off at the plant shortly after the March 16 earthquake, but a subsequent investigation found there was no fire or smoke.

A local fire department in Fukushima later concluded they were false alarms, the statement said.

Japan's nuclear authority said no abnormalities were detected at the Fukushima plant, while pumps for cooling pools at some reactors temporarily halted but resumed operation shortly afterwards, AFP reported.

Old photos

A reverse image search on Google found one of the photos in the misleading graphic was included in a December 2016 article from the International Business Times.

The article features photos of the 9.0-earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11, 2011.

The photo's caption reads: "11 March 2011: Gas storage tanks explode after the earthquake hit the Cosmo oil refinery in Ichihara city, Chiba Prefecture. (Asahi/Reuters)"

In a press release issued by Cosmo on August 2, 2011, it said the earthquake broke several legs holding up a liquefied petroleum gas tank, which collapsed and leaked, sparking a fire.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the photo used in the misleading graphic (left) and the original photo taken by Asahi/Reuters (right):

Screenshot comparison of the photo used in the misleading graphic (left) and the original photo taken by Asahi/Reuters (right).

A reverse image search on Google of the second photo used in the graphic found a photo taken by AFP photographer Kazuhiro Nogi in Tokyo, Japan, on October 31, 2021.

The photo's caption reads: "Firefighters gather outside Kokuryo Station on the Keio Line in the city of Chofu in western Tokyo on October 31, 2021, after a man injured at least 10 people in a knife and fire attack on a train."

Japanese police said the knife and fire attack on the Tokyo train was carried out by a 24-year-old man who expressed admiration for the comic villain the Joker.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the second photo used in the misleading graphic (left) and the original photo taken by AFP (right):

Screenshot comparison of the second photo used in the misleading graphic (left) and the original photo taken by AFP (right).

AFP has previously debunked misinformation spreading about the Fukushima nuclear power plant here and here.