Could 2011 Quake Trigger an Eruption of Mount Fuji?

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Mount Fuji, the highest point in Japan at 12,400 feet, is a national symbol that’s listed in the World Heritage list as a “sacred place.” But it’s also an active volcano, albeit one that hasn’t exploded very often. But a newly-published study in the journal Science says that the shock waves from the March 11, 2011 Tohoku-oki 9.0 offshore earthquake – the one that caused the nuclear disaster at Fukushima — also have dangerously increased the pressure beneath Fuji.

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While the French and Japanese scientists who did the study aren’t predicting a precise date for an eruption, one of them says that Fuji is in a “critical state.” The last big eruption of Fuji in 1707, which also seems to have been triggered by a big earthquake, spewed almost a billion cubic meters of ash and debris into the atmosphere, according to the Guardian newspaper.

To come up with their findings, the researchers analyzed over 70 terabytes of seismic data gathered during and after the giant 2011 quake. The latter triggered a devastating tsunami that slammed into the nuclear power complex, crippling backup electrical systems and ultimately causing meltdowns of three reactors.

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If Fuji erupted, the volcanic ash and lava and pyroclastic flow – a combination of solid to semi-solid fragments and hot, expanding gases — would endanger 1.2 million people who live in the Shizuoka, Yamanashi and Kanagawa prefectures in the vicinity of the volcano. Wooden houses would be at risk of being crushed under volcanic ash, which becomes heavier after absorbing rain. In February, local governments adopted mass evaluation plans for such an event, according to Japan Times.