Japan upgraded its month-old nuclear emergency to a maximum seven on an international scale of atomic crises Tuesday, placing it on a par with the Chernobyl disaster a quarter-century ago. The reassessment to a “major accident” with “widespread health and environmental effects” was based on the total radiation released, which officials said was one-tenth of the 1986 accident in the then Soviet Union.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan, however, also stressed that “step by step, the reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi power plant are moving toward stability. The level of radioactive materials released is declining.” “We have caused a great deal of trouble for the world,” the centre-left premier added in a televised press conference, stressing that “we must make efforts to increase the safety of nuclear reactors”.
As workers continued their struggle to stabilise the charred reactors, Japan was rocked by more aftershocks from the 9.0-magnitude quake on March 11 that sent a massive tsunami barrelling into the northeast coast. By the latest count the tectonic disaster, the country’s worst post-war crisis, had killed more than 13,000 people and left over 14,500 others missing. Around 150,000 people are still in emergency shelters.