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Japan’s nuclear crisis is slowly stabilising and the country must now focus on repairing the damage wrought by the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck the northeast coast a month ago, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said.
He was speaking shortly after new data showed more radiation leaked from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in the early days of the crisis than first thought.
That new information put Japan’s n, Chernobyl, officials said, but the upgrade in its severity rating to the highest level on a globally recognised scale did not mean the situation had suddenly become more critical.
“The situation at the Fukushima Daiichi plant is slowly stabilising, step by step, and the emission of radioactive substances is on a declining trend,” Kan told a press briefing. “A month has passed. We need to take steps towards restoration and reconstruction.”
He said he had instructed a reconstruction panel to create a work blueprint by June.
The government is considering spinning off the part of plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) that oversees the stricken facility, Jiji news agency reported on Tuesday.
TEPCO appears to be no closer to restoring cooling systems at the reactors, critical to lowering the temperature of overheated nuclear fuel rods. On Tuesday, Japan’s science ministry said small amounts of strontium, one of the most harmful radioactive elements, had been found in soil near Fukushima Daiichi.
The increase in the severity level heightens the risk of diplomatic tension with Japan’s neighbours over radioactive fallout. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told Kan on Tuesday he was “concerned” about the release of radiation into the ocean.
The March earthquake and tsunami killed up to 28,000 people and the estimated financial cost stands at $300 billion, making it the world’s most expensive disaster.
Kan appealed to the Japanese people not to stop spending. “I would like to ask the public not to fall into an excessive self-restraint mood and to live as normally as possible,” he said. Japan’s economics minister warned the damage was likely to be worse than first thought as power shortages would cut factory output and disrupt supply chains.
‘Totally different’ from Chernobyl
Japan’s month-long nuclear emergency is “totally different” to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, even though they share the same rating on an international scale of atomic crises, the UN atomic watchdog said Tuesday.
“Fukushima and Chernobyl are very different,” said Denis Flory, head of nuclear safety and security at the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“This is a totally different accident. The level of releases and the value for Chernobyl are significantly different,” he told a regular news briefing at the IAEA’s Vienna headquarters.