Japanese earthquake update - Government response

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

At 1446hrs on Friday 11 March an earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0 struck 250 miles from Tokyo. There continues to be a risk of earthquakes, aftershocks and tsunamis.

Government response

  • The British Search and Rescue team deployed by DFID has now arrived at their base, 20km outside Ofunato in the north east of Japan. They are co-ordinating their rescue operation with local search and rescue teams. The British team will be working alongside US search and rescue colleagues and dogs. Several members of the team have already carried out an initial assessment of the area. All teams will set out to begin search and rescue operations at first light tomorrow.
  • The British Ambassador and a team of consular staff are in Sendai to assess the level of damage and to help locate British nationals. They have been visiting reception centres and hospitals.
  • Three specialist UK consular teams have arrived in Japan from London and the region. 47 additional consular staff are now in Japan. More are due to arrive over the next 24 hours. Officials are present at Narita and Haneda airports. We are working with the Japanese authorities to establish whether any British nationals have been involved.
  • Embassy staff and British volunteers are helping to get information to our citizens about the situation, and working closely with Japanese officials. Embassy response teams at Tokyo’s Haneda and Narita airports are assisting British nationals and liaising with airlines.
  • Travel advice has been updated and recommends against all non-essential travel to Tokyo and North East Japan. Please keep checking our website.
  • The FCO’s emergency helpline has taken more than 4700 calls. There is currently no waiting time.
  • We have offered humanitarian assistance, Disaster Victim Identification and additional nuclear expertise to the Japanese Government.
  • A dedicated crisis unit has been established in the Foreign Office and DFID have activated their humanitarian operations room. Our Embassy in Tokyo and Consulate in Osaka have been working around the clock.


  • We continue to monitor the situation regarding Japan’s nuclear facilities, with the benefit of informed scientific and health advice in the UK. The Japanese authorities have confirmed that the situation at Fukushima nuclear facility remains serious, but that there is currently no significant off site release of radioactive material. There is a 20km exclusion zone around the facility, which we continue to urge British nationals to observe. This is consistent with the severity of the reported incident, with the independent information that we have, and with international practice. We will keep this under constant review.
  • At the request of Ministers the Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir John Beddington, convened the Scientific Advice for Emergencies (SAGE) group on Saturday. This contained experts from within Government and external experts from the National Nuclear Laboratory and Academia. The unanimous view of SAGE was that there is no need for British nationals to have to evacuate areas outside the current exclusion zone.
  • Lessons learned from more significant incidents, such as Chernobyl, is that a exclusion zone (currently 20 km) will be effective - even in the event of a more substantial release - in minimising the health effects from direct radiation exposure. Any emissions will be monitored in real time by the Japanese authorities which should enable appropriate advice to be issued.


  • Foreign Office minister Jeremy Browne chaired a fifth COBR on Monday morning to coordinate the cross-Government response.
  • The Foreign Secretary will be meeting the Japanese Foreign Minister in the fringes of the G8 Foreign Ministers meeting tomorrow.
  • Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne spoke to the Japanese Ambassador earlier today.


  • This is a major disaster which has claimed many lives and injured many others. As yet there are no confirmed British fatalities, but we have severe concerns about a number of British nationals.
  • We urge people to get in touch on our hotline number (020 7008 0000) to let us know of loved ones who are missing or known to be safe.
  • The immediate priority for the Japanese authorities is the emergency response. In these unpredictable circumstances, it is likely to take some time to formally identify those who may have lost their lives or been injured and to notify next of kin.