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Japan Raises Crisis Rating of Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

David McAlpine |
April 11, 2011 | 8:28 p.m. PDT

Executive Producer

Japanese officials announced Tuesday that they have raised the severity rating of the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi to the highest on an international scale, equivalent to the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

The failing nuclear complex was previously classified as a 5 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale, the same level of 1979’s Three Mile Island incident in Pennsylvania. Authorities, however, decided to raise it to a 7, classifying it as a “major accident,” after an aftershock on Tuesday caused a fire to break out in the complex’s reactor No. 4.

Officials said Tuesday that the amount of radiation leaking from the disabled Japanese reactor was 10 percent of what was leaking from the Chernobyl plant.

Voice of America reported:

Japanese news media reported Tuesday that the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency made the decision after determining that the radioactive material leaking from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant for several hours after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami disaster reached a maximum severity level. They said the radioactive leakage has since declined.

Yet another fire broke out at the troubled plant Tuesday, but reports say it was soon put out. The government also expanded an evacuation zone around the Fukushima plant because of the high-level of radiation spreading in the region since last month's tsunami.

The announcement raised already heightened concerns across the region about a major nuclear meltdown. Japanese officials took precautions before the announcement Tuesday, widening the evacuation zone around the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

From The Washington Post:

Japan’s government had initially called for a mandatory evacuation within a 12-mile radius. But Japan on Monday widened its evacuation zone, selecting certain towns within 19 miles — those with higher radiation readings — for mandatory evacuation.

According to Kyodo, Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission reported Monday that the plant, at one point after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, had been releasing 10,000 terabecquerels of radioactivity per hour. The report did not specify when those radiation readings occurred. A release of tens of thousands of terabecquerels per hour, though, correspondents with the radiation leakage level that the IAEA uses as a minimum benchmark for a level 7 accident.

“This corresponds to a large fraction of the core inventory of a power reactor, typically involving a mixture of short- and long-lived radionuclides,” an IAEA document says. “With such a release, stochastic health effects over a wide area, perhaps involving more than one country, are expected.”

This announcement comes as the latest blow to the Tokyo Power and Electric Company (TEPCO), the owner and manager of the nuclear complex. Earlier Tuesday, credit company JP Morgan estimated the company may face more than 2 trillion yen, or more than $23.5 billion in claims as a result of the Fukushima disaster. The company’s stocks have already dropped 75 percent since the major earthquake and tsunami rocked northeastern Japan last month.



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