Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Japan upgrades nuclear severity level to maximum

Japanese police officers wearing white suits to protect them from radiation stand by a victim being cleaned. Japan is to raise its assessment of the severity of its nuclear emergency to the maximum seven, reports said. -- PHOTO: AP

TOKYO - JAPAN upgraded its nuclear emergency to a maximum seven on an international scale of atomic crises on Tuesday, the first time the ranking has been invoked since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

The incident at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was sparked by last month's earthquake and tsunami, which killed more than 13,000 people, with around 14,500 people still missing.

The regrading to a 'major accident' puts Fukushima on a par with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the world's worst ever peacetime nuclear event. The meltdown at Chernobyl in the then Soviet Union spewed a large volume of toxic radiation, poisoning large areas of land and affecting thousands of lives.

Officials said it was difficult to estimate exactly how much radiation had been released in Japan's nuclear emergency. But available estimates 'show levels equivalent to Level Seven,' a safety agency official said. Workers at Fukushima Daiichi are battling to control overheating reactors whose cooling systems were knocked out by last month's enormous waves.

The re-assessment from level five on the scale came as Japan was rocked by yet another powerful aftershock from the 9.0 magnitude quake that unleashed a devastating tsunami on March 11.

The 6.2 magnitude tremor hit 77km east of Tokyo on Tuesday and swayed buildings in the capital, temporarily shutting down subway services and halting bullet trains. US geologists originally put the magnitude at 6.4. In a fresh setback, a fire broke out early Tuesday morning at a battery unit outside a building at the No. 4 reactor unit, but was quickly extinguished and did not spread to other areas, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power said. 
-- AFP

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