12
Apr
11

Nuclear crisis level raised

Japan raised the crisis level at its crippled nuclear plant Tuesday to a severity on par with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, citing high overall radiation leaks that have contaminated the air, tap water, vegetables and seawater.

Japanese nuclear regulators said they raised the rating from 5 to 7 — the highest level on an international scale of nuclear accidents overseen by the International Atomic Energy Agency — after new assessments of radiation leaks from the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant since it was disabled by the March 11 tsunami.

AP

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Police officers man a checkpoint in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, about 20-kilometers (12-miles) from the tsunami-damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant Monday. The signs read “No entry, Entry not allowed by the special nuclear disaster legislation,” right, and “Security check in operation,” left.
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Japan’s Tsunami Aftermath
Police officers man a checkpoint in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, about 20-kilometers (12-miles) from the tsunami-damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant Monday. The signs read “No entry, Entry not allowed by the special nuclear disaster legislation,” right, and “Security check in operation,” left.
AP
Kyodo News

Japan Earthquake Triggers Tsunami

Buddhist monks, Japan Self-Defense Force personnel firefighters and other relief workers observe a moment of silence on Monday, April 11, 2011, exactly one month after the devastating earthquake hit northeastern Japan, on “Hiyori Yama”, or Weather Hill, in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture. Local fishermen used to climb the man-made hump and decide whether it was safe to fish. (AP Photo/Yomiuri Shimbun, Koichi Nakamura) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT

Japan Earthquake Triggers Tsunami

Buddhist monks, Japan Self-Defense Force personnel firefighters and other relief workers observe a moment of silence at 2:46 p.m. on Monday, April 11, 2011, exactly one month after the devastating earthquake hit northeastern Japan, on “Hiyori Yama”, or Weather Hill, in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture. Local fishermen used to climb the man-made hump and decide whether it was safe to fish. (AP Photo/Yomiuri Shimbun, Yasushi Kanno) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT

Japan Earthquake Triggers Tsunami

Buddhist monks, Japan Self-Defense Force personnel firefighters and other relief workers observe a moment of silence on Monday, April 11, 2011, exactly one month after the devastating earthquake hit northeastern Japan, on “Hiyori Yama”, or Weather Hill, in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture. Local fishermen used to climb the man-made hump and decide whether it was safe to fish. (AP Photo/Yomiuri Shimbun, Koichi Nakamura) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT

Japan Earthquake Triggers Tsunami

Buddhist monks, Japan Self-Defense Force personnel firefighters and other relief workers observe a moment of silence at 2:46 p.m. on Monday, April 11, 2011, exactly one month after the devastating earthquake hit northeastern Japan, on “Hiyori Yama”, or Weather Hill, in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture. Local fishermen used to climb the man-made hump and decide whether it was safe to fish. (AP Photo/Yomiuri Shimbun, Yasushi Kanno) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT

Japan Earthquake Triggers Tsunami

Members of the Ground Self-Defense Forces form a line before a silent prayer for the tsunami victims in Kesennuma, Miyagi prefecture on April 11, 2011 a month after the earthquake and tsunami strike. Japan fell silent at 2:46 pm to mark exactly one month since a massive earthquake hit, spawning a devastating tsunami. AFP PHOTO / KAZUHIRO NOGI (Photo credit should read KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)

Japan Earthquake Triggers Tsunami

Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force members take a moment of silence at 2:46 p.m., exactly a month after a massive earthquake struck the area in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, Monday, April 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Yomiuri Shimbun, Yasuhiro Takami) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT

Japan Earthquake Triggers Tsunami

Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force members take a moment of silence at 2:46 p.m., exactly a month after a massive earthquake struck the area in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, Monday, April 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Yomiuri Shimbun, Yasuhiro Takami) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT

Japan Earthquake Triggers Tsunami

Police officers offer silent prayers for victims of tsunami and earthquake before tsunami washed at Ishinomaki city in Miyagi prefecture on April 11, 2011 a month after the earthquake and tsunami strike. Japan fell silent at 2:46 pm to mark exactly one month since a massive earthquake hit, spawning a devastating tsunami. AFP PHOTO / JIJI PRESS (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Japan Earthquake Triggers Tsunami

Members of the Ground Self-Defense Forces search for relics from a wreck in Kesennuma, Miyagi prefecture on April 11, 2011 a month after the earthquake and tsunami strike. Japan fell silent at 2:46 pm to mark exactly one month since a massive earthquake hit, spawning a devastating tsunami. AFP PHOTO / KAZUHIRO NOGI (Photo credit should read KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)

Japan Earthquake Triggers Tsunami

Members of the Ground Self-Defense Forces search relics from a wreck in Kesennuma, Miyagi prefecture on April 11, 2011 a month after the earthquake and tsunami strike. Japan fell silent at 2:46 pm to mark exactly one month since a massive earthquake hit, spawning a devastating tsunami. AFP PHOTO / KAZUHIRO NOGI (Photo credit should read KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)

Japan Earthquake Triggers Tsunami

The new ranking signifies a “major accident” that includes widespread effects on the environment and health, according to the Vienna-based IAEA. But Japanese officials played down any health effects and stressed that the harm caused by Chernobyl still far outweighs that caused by the Fukushima plant.

The revision came a day after the government added five communities to a list of places people should leave to avoid long-term radiation exposure. A 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius already had been cleared around the plant.

The news was received with chagrin by residents in Iitate, one of the five communities, where high levels of radiation have been detected in the soil. The village of 6,200 people is about 40 kilometers from the Fukushima plant.

“It’s very shocking to me,” said Miyuki Ichisawa, 52, who runs a coffee shop in Iitate. “Now the government is officially telling us this accident is at the same level of Chernobyl.”

Japanese officials said the leaks from the Fukushima plant so far amount to a tenth of the radiation emitted in the Chernobyl disaster, but said they eventually could exceed Chernobyl’s emissions if the crisis continues.

“This reconfirms that this is an extremely major disaster. We are very sorry to the public, people living near the nuclear complex and the international community for causing such a serious accident,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano.

But Edano told reporters there was no “direct health damage” so far from the crisis. “The accident itself is really serious, but we have set our priority so as not to cause health damage.”

Hironobu Unesaki, a nuclear physicist at Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute, said the revision was not a cause for worry, that it had to do with the overall release of radiation and was not directly linked to health dangers. He said most of the radiation was released early in the crisis and that the reactors still have mostly intact containment vessels surrounding their nuclear cores.

The change was “not directly connected to the environmental and health effects,” Unesaki said. “Judging from all the measurement data, it is quite under control. It doesn’t mean that a significant amount of release is now continuing.”

 

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