Fukushima nuclear alert goes to level seven —on par with Chernobyl

Japan raised the severity level of its nuclear crisis to seven on April 12—putting it on par with the Chernobyl disaster—as stricken reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex continue to release large amounts of radioactive substances. The Nuclear Industry and Safety Agency (NISA) had previously assessed the crisis at at level five, the same as the Three Mile Island accident in the United States in 1979. The move came as engineers were fighting another fire at reactor Number 4, and as a 6.3 aftershock centered off the coast of Chiba rocked eastern Japan. (Brisbane Times, April 12; Reuters, April 11)

Japan’s authorities also enlarged the exclusion zone around the Fukushima complex. The government, the International Atomic Energy Agency, a Kyoto University group, and Greenpeace have all found elevated levels of radiation beyond the 20-kilometer evacuation zone and even the 30-kilometer zone within which people are urged to minimize time outdoors. Authorities are now recommending that those living in areas where the annual accumulated dose will reach 20 milli-sieverts over the next year move to safer areas. Prior to the current emergency, nuclear power plant workers in Japan were limited to annual doses of 100 milli-sieverts. Authorities said the move to protect ordinary citizens is not an emergency situation but rather a “deliberate evacuation” that will be carried out over the next month in consultations with the affected communities. (Science Insider, April 11)

Recent tests of seawater around the plant by the local TEPCO utility found levels of radioactive isotopes far surpassing legal limits—iodine by 7.5 million times and cesium by 1.1 million times. Several countries, including Hong Kong, Russia, and India, have instated temporary bans on Japanese seafood imports. So far, there is no such ban in the US. (Mother Jones, April 11)

See our last post on the Fukushima disaster.

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  1. What does level 7 mean?
    The BBC World Service reports April 12 that the radiation released in the Fukushima reactor explosions was only one-tenth of that released in the single explosion at Chernobyl. However, the Fukushima reactors have continued to release radiation for a month, and there is still no end in sight to the leaking. Experts say the area within 10 kilometers of the plants will be uninhabitable for a generation. Authorities have also officially abandoned the attempt to assign the severity level on a reactor-by-reactor basis, but are instead treating the crisis at Fukushima as a whole—which we submit gives a more honest picture.