False major earthquake alarm in Japan causes temporary panic

The Japanese Meteorological Agency has said it is investigating a false alarm it issued via an early warning system this morning regarding a strong earthquake of magnitude 7.8 in the Nara prefecture in western Japan.

Echoing an incident in the US last month when iPhones in New York issued simultaneous flash flood warnings to users, Japanese phones buzzed with alerts regarding a major earthquake at around 17:00 Japanese time, saying residents should be prepared for a jolt. The alert was sent to a wide swathe of the country from the Kansai region to Kanto and Kyushu.

A few minutes later, the Meterological Agency issued an alert for a much softer 2.3 magnitude earthquake in Wakayama, also in the south west.

Lying inland, the false earthquake was unlikely to mean a tsunami, but the announcement prompted panic within Japan. JR Tokai halted its bullet trains between Odawara and Shin-Osaka stations but resumed about 10 minutes later.

Seperately, the Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to take "firm measures" to contain radioactive water leaks from the nuclear part at Fukushima after it was damaged by a tsunami in March 2011. A government official has said up to 300 tonnes of highly radioactive water may be flowing into the sea every day. One proposal being considered is to freeze the ground around the plant.