Japan has raised its assessment of the accident at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to the worst rating on an international scale, putting the disaster on par with the 1986 Chernobyl explosion, in an acknowledgement that the human and environmental consequences of the nuclear crisis could be dire and long-lasting.
The decision to raise the alert level to 7 from 5 on the scale, overseen by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is based on new estimates by Japanese authorities that suggest the total amount of radioactive materials released so far had reached that threshold.
The IAEA, however, said Japan’s decision to raise the severity level does not mean it is comparable to Chernobyl.
“This is a totally different accident,” IAEA official Denis Flory told a news conference.
But Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director general of Japan's nuclear regulator, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said the total amount of radioactive materials released from Fukushima equals 10% of that released in the Chernobyl disaster.
In fact, according to an official from the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, the radiation release could, in time, surpass the levels seen in 1986. “The leak has not stopped completely,” said nuclear executive Junichi Matsumoto.