By PHRED DVORAK, JURO OSAWA and YUKA HAYASHI | Wall Street Journal | Link to article
TOKYO-The Japanese government raised its assessment of the monthlong crisis at its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to the highest severity level by international standards-a rating only conferred so far upon the Chernobyl accident.
Japan’s nuclear regulators said the plant has likely released so much radiation into the environment that it must boost the accident’s severity rating on the International Nuclear Event scale to a 7 from 5 currently. That is the same level reached by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the former Soviet Union, which struck almost exactly 25 years ago, on April 26, 1986.
“Based on the cumulative data we’ve gathered, we can finally give an estimate of total radioactive materials emitted,” Hidehiko Nishiyama, spokesman for Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said at a press conference Tuesday.
Even as they upgraded their assessment of the situation, Japanese officials went to lengths to say that the problem they are struggling to contain isn’t anywhere near the disaster of Chernobyl.
“It is quite different from Chernobyl,” said Mr. Nishiyama. “First, the amount of released radiation is about a tenth of Chernobyl,” he said, adding that while there were 29 deaths resulting from short-term exposure to high doses of radiation at Chernobyl, there were no such deaths at Fukushima.
“At Chernobyl, the nuclear reactor itself exploded,” he said, adding that at the Fukushima plant, the pressure vessel and the containment vessel were largely intact.
Still, Fukushima Daiichi operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. warned Tuesday that since the Fukushima Daiichi plant is still releasing radioactive materials, the total level of radiation released could eventually exceed that of Chernobyl, a spokesman said. (read full article)