Major earthquake kills at least 34 in Pakistan, possibly more in Iran

An earthquake near the Iran-Pakistan border killed a number of people Tuesday -- at least 34 in Pakistsan, and perhaps more in Iran. Iranian news agencies gave conflicting reports of casualties, according to the Associated Press:

Iran’s state-run Press TV initially said at least 40 people were killed on the Iranian side, but later removed the figure from its website and news scroll. Other state-controlled outlets, including the official IRNA news agency, mentioned no deaths and only injuries, quoting a local official.

In a preliminary measurement, the U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude of the earthquake was 7.8 on the Richter scale. Another earthquake in Iran killed at least 37 people a week ago, according to officials in the country. That earthquake occurred about 60 miles from a nuclear power station in the coastal town of Bushehr, but the plant was apparently undamaged:

The UN’s nuclear watchdog agency said on its website that it had been informed by Iran that there was no damage to the plant and no radioactive release and, based on its analysis of the earthquake, was not seeking additional information. The International Atomic Energy Agency statement indicated that it was satisfied there was little danger.

The plant at Bushehr, which dates to the rule of the shah more than 30 years ago, combines German and Russian technology. Observers have worried about the plant’s reliability, as Bloomberg reported after a pump failure in 2010:

Nuclear experts cite potential safety issues due to the hybrid design, Iranian nuclear inexperience, the Islamic state’s reluctance to join international safety monitoring programs, and the unknown reliability of some of the original components. . .

Bushehr also sits at the junction of three tectonic plates, raising concerns that an earthquake could damage the plant and crack its containment dome, or disrupt the electrical supply needed to keep it safe, said Dr. Jassem al-Awadi, a geologist at the University of Kuwait.

Kuwait and other nearby countries on the Persian Gulf could be at risk of nuclear contamination if containment at Bushehr were to fail.

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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