Japanese researchers have tested a huge quake simulator capable of jolting a six-storey building in a project that could help improve earthquake-resistant construction methods.

The E-Defense simulator, with a 300-square-meter "shaking table" powered by 24 pistons, can jolt buildings up to 12,000 tons, according to the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention, or NIED.

In Friday’s experiment, the mammoth device jolted a 16-meter, six-storey condominium at velocities similar to those in the 7.2-magnitude quake that hit the western city of Kobe in 1995. That quake caused widespread structural damage and killed over 6,400 people.

The condo shuddered violently in the 3-dimensional shaking, its ground floor pillars crumbling to reveal steel reinforcements that had become twisted.

But the structure — built with methods from the 1970s to reflect many of the country’s condos — stopped short of collapsing in the 40-second experiment, carried out in Miki city, just outside Kobe.

Quake simulations involving life-sized structures help engineers assess structural damage in ways that aren’t possible with models, NIED said.

Japanese scientists claimed in a paper last year that E-Defense is the largest 3-dimensional simulator in the world.

Researchers hope the 45 billion yen E-Defense project will be especially helpful in improving quake-resistant engineering methods.

"We can see buildings are very vulnerable to an earthquake like the one in Kobe," Toshimi Kabeyasawa, a professor at Tokyo University’s Earth Quake Research Institute, told reporters after the simulation.

NIED plans to conduct similar experiments on various building types, it said.

Earthquakes have always been a concern in Japan, located on four tectonic plates, and the country has built some of the world’s most quake-proof buildings.

But a series of recent quakes, as well as a scandal involving an architect who falsified earthquake safety data for buildings across the country, has renewed anxieties over the ability of housing to resist temblors.

More here.