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Tohoku Earthquake Affects Mineral Supplies

Tohoku Earthquake Affects Mineral Supplies

In addition to its other effects, the magnitude 9.0 Tohoku earthquake that struck northeast Japan on March 11, 2011, will affect Japan’s and the world’s supply of some minerals, at least temporarily. Up to one-quarter of the world’s iodine and one-third of Japan’s cement production may be affected, according to a recently released U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report. 

The USGS report indicates that the area affected by the earthquake is home to eight iodine plants and nine cement plants, as well as 15 other nonfuel mineral processing facilities and four limestone mines. 

“This earthquake has been devastating to the people of Japan, and its effects are only beginning to be understood,” said Dave Menzie, the report’s lead author. “The USGS continues to support the relief efforts, and this report, which provides mineral supply and economic information, will be very useful to decision-makers’ recovery planning efforts.” 

Factors that affect these mines and mineral processing plants include not only the physical damage inflicted on them by the earthquake, but also the damage done to the surrounding infrastructure.  Mineral extraction and processing facilities require large quantities of electricity, and much of Japan’s electrical power capability in the affected area was severely damaged.  Some mineral facilities that sustained no damage from the earthquake have been forced to shut down because of limits placed on electricity usage. 

Transportation infrastructure is also important to mineral processing and extraction, as highways, railroads, and ports are required both to supply raw materials and to ship finished products.  Japanese media outlets have reported damage to 12 ports in area, as well as widespread railroad damage.

Japan is the world’s second leading iodine producer, after Chile, with roughly 33 percent of the world’s total.  The eight affected refineries alone have the capacity to produce 25 percent of the world’s iodine. 

Iodine is used primarily in liquid-crystal displays for electronic devices and x-ray contrast media.  High doses of nonradioactive iodine (usually as potassium iodide) can protect people exposed to high levels of radiation from health problems later in life. 

In addition to iodine, Japan is a leading source of titanium metal, and its facilities in the affected area have the ability to produce 10 percent of the world’s titanium metal.

The new report, Mines and Mineral Processing Facilities in the Vicinity of the March 11, 2011, Earthquake in Northern Honshu, Japan, is available online. To learn more the USGS Mineral Resources Program, please visit their homepage.

USGS Newsroom

More information

Parameter Value Description
Magnitude mb The magnitude for the event.
Longitude ° East Decimal degrees longitude. Negative values for western longitudes.
Latitude ° North Decimal degrees latitude. Negative values for southern latitudes.
Depth km Depth of the event in kilometers.
Place Textual description of named geographic region near to the event. This may be a city name, or a Flinn-Engdahl Region name.
Time 1970-01-01 00:00:00 Time when the event occurred. UTC/GMT
Updated 1970-01-01 00:00:00 Time when the event was most recently updated. UTC/GMT
Timezone offset Timezone offset from UTC in minutes at the event epicenter.
Felt The total number of felt reports
CDI The maximum reported intensity for the event.
MMI The maximum estimated instrumental intensity for the event.
Alert Level The alert level from the PAGER earthquake impact scale. Green, Yellow, Orange or Red.
Review Status Indicates whether the event has been reviewed by a human.
Tsunami This flag is set to "1" for large events in oceanic regions and "0" otherwise. The existence or value of this flag does not indicate if a tsunami actually did or will exist.
SIG A number describing how significant the event is. Larger numbers indicate a more significant event.
Network The ID of a data contributor. Identifies the network considered to be the preferred source of information for this event.
Sources A comma-separated list of network contributors.
Number of Stations Used The total number of Number of seismic stations which reported P- and S-arrival times for this earthquake.
Horizontal Distance Horizontal distance from the epicenter to the nearest station (in degrees).
Root Mean Square sec The root-mean-square (RMS) travel time residual, in sec, using all weights.
Azimuthal Gap The largest azimuthal gap between azimuthally adjacent stations (in degrees).
Magnitude Type The method or algorithm used to calculate the preferred magnitude for the event.
Event Type Type of seismic event.
Event ID Id of event.
Event Code An identifying code assigned by, and unique from, the corresponding source for the event.
Event IDS A comma-separated list of event ids that are associated to an event.

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