Japan Nuclear Crisis On Same Level As Chernobyl - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Japan Nuclear Crisis On Same Level As Chernobyl

TOKYO - Japan raised the severity level of the crisis at its crippled nuclear plant Tuesday to rank it on par with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, citing cumulative radiation leaks that have contaminated the air, tap water, vegetables and seawater.

Japanese nuclear regulators said the rating was being raised from 5 to 7 — the highest level on an international scale 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.

The new ranking signifies a "major accident" that includes widespread effects on the environment and health, according to the Vienna-based IAEA.

"Our preparations for how to measure (the radiation leakage) when such a tsunami and earthquake occurred were insufficient and, as a result, we were late in disseminating information internationally," said a senior official in Prime Minister Naoto Kan's office.

Hidehiko Nishiyama, a deputy director-general of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), said the decision to raise the severity of the incident from level 5 to 7 — the same as the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986 — was based on cumulative quantities of radiation released.

"Even before this, we had considered this a very serious incident so, in that sense, there will be no big change in the way we deal with it just because it has been designated level 7," an agency official said.

Continued aftershocks following the 9.0-magnitude megaquake on March 11 have impeded work in stabilizing the Fukushima plant — the latest a 6.3-magnitude one Tuesday that prompted plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co., or TEPCO, to temporarily pull back workers.

The aftershock caused a fire to break out at the plant, but engineers later extinguished the blaze.

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