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What are some key facts about the 2011 tsunami in Japan?

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Quick Answer

The 2011 tsunami in Japan resulted from an earthquake off the coast of Honshu, Japan, that measured 9.0 on the Richter scale, making it the fourth-strongest earthquake in world history. The tsunami devastated Fukushima, Japan, damaging or destroying nuclear reactors and causing the release of radioactive material into the environment. As a result of the tsunami, more than 15,000 people have been confirmed dead, with 2,500 still missing, as of April 2015.

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The first of many tsunami waves struck the coast of Japan less than an hour after the earthquake, with heights of up to 128 feet and reaching up to 6 miles inland. An estimated 217 square miles were flooded; drowning was the cause of most of the reported deaths. Waves from the tsunami traveled across the Pacific Ocean, with waves up to 6 feet high reaching Chile 11,000 miles away.

The tsunami caused the cooling system at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant to fail, resulting in a nuclear meltdown and releasing large quantities of radioactive materials on land and in the ocean, which led to the evacuation of most people in the vicinity. Scientists have detected low levels of radiation from the disaster off the California coast, and debris continued to reach California beaches years later.

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