April 12, 2011
Japanese nuclear disaster officially on par with Chernobyl
The Japanese government officially raised the scale of the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima power plant to a Level 7. The scale runs from 1-7, and placing it at the highest level puts it on par with the only other Level 7 accident in history – the disaster at Chernobyl in 1986.
There is little practical effect of the new designation, although the government vowed to continue working to bring the radiation leakage under control.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan said he wants the plant’s owner, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, to produce a timetable for bringing the disaster to an end, “and they will be doing that soon.” And a day after his government warned that thousands more people would need to be evacuated from the surrounding region, he pledged to provide jobs, housing and education for those uprooted by the accident.”The government will not forsake the people who are suffering because of the nuclear accident,” Kan told reporters in a Tuesday evening news conference.
Japan declared the Fukushima Daiichi crisis a Level 7 event on the international system for rating nuclear accidents Tuesday, putting it on par with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union. The top-scale designation was based on the massive release of radioactivity since the accident began, particularly in its early days, and classifies Fukushima Daiichi a “major accident” requiring long-term countermeasures.
“At all costs, all the reactors and the spent nuclear fuel pools must be brought under control so that we can prevent a further expansion of the damage,” Kan said.
This is obviously easier said than done. The big difference between Chernobyl and Fukushima is that the reactors at the Japanese plant are largely intact and workers can get to the damaged areas. More ominously, Fukushima is in a much more densely populated area. More than 85,000 have already been evacuated while another 60,000 may be told to move soon.
One can only hope that the brave technicians who have been battling the disaster for weeks will not suffer the ultimate consequences of the accident.