Japan has officially raised the nuclear crisis level at the Fukushima reactor to 7, the highest level on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s scale.
The Associated Press reports that “The new ranking signifies a ‘major accident’ that includes widespread effects on the environment and health, according to the Vienna-based IAEA. But Japanese officials played down any health effects and stressed that the harm caused by Chernobyl still far outweighs that caused by the Fukushima plant.”
Despite the elevated crisis rating, “Japanese officials said the leaks from the Fukushima plant so far amount to a tenth of the radiation emitted in the Chernobyl disaster.” However, they conceded the radiation “eventually could exceed Chernobyl’s emissions, if the crisis continues.”
The government has been urging the public not to panic. In Japan, this actually works. Prime Minister Naoto Kan assured the nation in a televised address that “the situation of the nuclear reactors at the Fukushima plant has been stabilizing step by step,” and “the amount of radiation leaks is on the decline.” Nevertheless, the BBC reports that the evacuation zone “will be widened to encompass five communities beyond the existing 12-mile radius,” based on new data about radiation levels.
The situation has not been helped by continuing aftershocks from the quake that destroyed the Fukushima reactions. They just had another one this morning, weighing in at magnitude 6.3, which forced workers to evacuate the #1 Fukushima reactor. The new quake struck only hours after Japan paused to observe a moment of silence for the 28,000 dead or missing from the earthquake and tsunami one month ago.
Tepco, the power company that operates the Fukushima plant, is trying to control the situation by cooling the fuel rods with water, and injecting nitrogen into the #1 reactor to prevent another hydrogen explosion. The BBC says the process involves “releasing water with low levels of radioactivity into the sea so that they can transfer highly radioactive water to a sealed area on site.”
This has done wonders for the important Japanese fishing industry, which also suffers from extensive damage to docks and boats caused by the tsunami. According to the BBC report, “The local community has been so angered by Tepco’s handling of the incident that Fukushima’s mayor refused to meet” Tepco chief Masataka Shimizu when he toured the area on Monday.
The Prime Minister has published an open letter of thanks to the many nations which have stepped forward to aid Japan in its hour of crisis, telling the reader that “we deeply appreciate the kizuna our friends from the world have shown, and I want to thank every nation, entity, and you personally, from the bottom of my heart. Through our own efforts, and with the help of the global community, Japan will recover and come back even stronger. We will then repay you for your generous aid.” Kizuna is a word describing strong bonds of friendship. The people of the Fukushima area need all the kizuna they can get right now.